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by Henry Beam Piper and John Joseph McGuire
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Title: Lone Star Planet
Author: Henry Beam Piper and John Joseph McGuire
Release Date: January 3, 2007 [EBook #20121]
[This file was first posted on December 16, 2006]
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LONE STAR PLANET
H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire
This etext was prepared from a 1979 reprint of the 1958 original. There is
no evidence that the copyright on this publication was renewed.
Obvious typesetting errors in the source text have been corrected
Lone Star Planet
A Division of Charter Communications Inc.
A GROSSET & DUNLAP COMPANY
360 Park Avenue South
New York, New York 10010
LONE STAR PLANET
Copyright © 1958 by Ace Books, Inc.
Originally published as A PLANET FOR TEXANS
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form
or by any means, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a
review, without permission in writing from the publisher.
All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This Ace Printing: April 1979
Printed in U.S.A.
They started giving me the business as soon as I came through the door
into the Secretary's outer office.
There was Ethel K'wang-Li, the Secretary's receptionist, at her desk.
There was Courtlant Staynes, the assistant secretary to the
Undersecretary for Economic Penetration, and Norman Gazarin, from
Protocol, and Toby Lawder, from Humanoid Peoples' Affairs, and Raoul
Chavier, and Hans Mannteufel, and Olga Reznik.
It was a wonder there weren't more of them watching the condemned man's
march to the gibbet: the word that the Secretary had called me in must
have gotten all over the Department since the offices had opened.
"Ah, Mr. Machiavelli, I presume," Ethel kicked off.
"Machiavelli, Junior." Olga picked up the ball. "At least, that's the
way he signs it."
"God's gift to the Consular Service, and the Consular Service's gift to
Policy Planning," Gazarin added.
"Take it easy, folks. These Hooligan Diplomats would as soon shoot you
as look at you," Mannteufel warned.
"Be sure and tell the Secretary that your friends all want important
posts in the Galactic Empire." Olga again.
"Well, I'm glad some of you could read it," I fired back. "Maybe even a
few of you understood what it was all about."
"Don't worry, Silk," Gazarin told me. "Secretary Ghopal understands what
it was all about. All too well, you'll find."
A buzzer sounded gently on Ethel K'wang-Li's desk. She snatched up the
handphone and whispered into it. A deathly silence filled the room while
she listened, whispered some more, then hung it up.
They were all staring at me.
"Secretary Ghopal is ready to see Mr. Stephen Silk," she said. "This
As I started across the room, Staynes began drumming on the top of the
desk with his fingers, the slow reiterated rhythm to which a man marches
to a military execution.
"A cigarette?" Lawder inquired tonelessly. "A glass of rum?"
There were three men in the Secretary of State's private office. Ghopal
Singh, the Secretary, dark-faced, gray-haired, slender and elegant,
meeting me halfway to his desk. Another slender man, in black, with a
silver-threaded, black neck-scarf: Rudolf Klüng, the Secretary of the
Department of Aggression.
And a huge, gross-bodied man with a fat baby-face and opaque black eyes.
When I saw him, I really began to get frightened.
The fat man was Natalenko, the Security Coördinator.
"Good morning, Mister Silk," Secretary Ghopal greeted me, his hand
extended. "Gentlemen, Mr. Stephen Silk, about whom we were speaking.
This way, Mr. Silk, if you please."
There was a low coffee-table at the rear of the office, and four easy
chairs around it. On the round brass table-top were cups and saucers, a
coffee urn, cigarettes--and a copy of the current issue of the _Galactic
Statesmen's Journal_, open at an article entitled _Probable Future
Courses of Solar League Diplomacy_, by somebody who had signed himself
I was beginning to wish that the pseudonymous Machiavelli, Jr. had never
been born, or, at least, had stayed on Theta Virgo IV and been a
wineberry planter as his father had wanted him to be.
As I sat down and accepted a cup of coffee, I avoided looking at the
periodical. They were probably going to hang it around my neck before
they shoved me out of the airlock.
"Mr. Silk is, as you know, in our Consular Service," Ghopal was saying
to the others. "Back on Luna on rotation, doing something in Mr.
Halvord's section. He is the gentleman who did such a splendid job for
us on Assha--Gamma Norma III.
"And, as he has just demonstrated," he added, gesturing toward the
_Statesman's Journal_ on the Benares-work table, "he is a student both
of the diplomacy of the past and the implications of our present
"A bit frank," Klüng commented dubiously.
"But judicious," Natalenko squeaked, in the high eunuchoid voice that
came so incongruously from his bulk. "He aired his singularly accurate
predictions in a periodical that doesn't have a circulation of more than
a thousand copies outside his own department. And I don't think the
public's semantic reactions to the terminology of imperialism is as bad
as you imagine. They seem quite satisfied, now, with the change in the
title of your department, from Defense to Aggression."
"Well, we've gone into that, gentlemen," Ghopal said. "If the article
really makes trouble for us, we can always disavow it. There's no
censorship of the _Journal_. And Mr. Silk won't be around to draw fire
_Here it comes_, I thought.
"That sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it, Mr. Silk?" Natalenko tittered
happily, like a ten-year-old who has just found a new beetle to pull the
legs out of.
"It's really not as bad as it sounds, Mr. Silk," Ghopal hastened to
reassure me. "We are going to have to banish you for a while, but I
daresay that won't be so bad. The social life here on Luna has probably
begun to pall, anyhow. So we're sending you to Capella IV."
"Capella IV," I repeated, trying to remember something about it. Capella
was a GO-type, like Sol; that wouldn't be so bad.
"New Texas," Klüng helped me out.
_Oh, God, no!_ I thought.
"It happens that we need somebody of your sort on that planet, Mr.
Silk," Ghopal said. "Some of the trouble is in my department and some of
it is in Mr. Klüng's; for that reason, perhaps it would be better if
Coördinator Natalenko explained it to you."
"You know, I assume, our chief interest in New Texas?" Natalenko asked.
"I had some of it for breakfast, sir," I replied. "Supercow."
Natalenko tittered again. "Yes, New Texas is the butcher shop of the
galaxy. In more ways than one, I'm afraid you'll find. They just
butchered one of our people there a short while ago. Our Ambassador, in
That would be Silas Cumshaw, and this was the first I'd heard about it.
I asked when it had happened.
"A couple of months ago. We just heard about it last evening, when the
news came in on a freighter from there. Which serves to point up
something you stressed in your article--the difficulties of trying to
run a centralized democratic government on a galactic scale. But we have
another interest, which may be even more urgent than our need for New
Texan meat. You've heard, of course, of the z'Srauff."
That was a statement, not a question; Natalenko wasn't trying to insult
me. I knew who the z'Srauff were; I'd run into them, here and there. One
of the extra-solar intelligent humanoid races, who seemed to have been
evolved from canine or canine-like ancestors, instead of primates. Most
of them could speak Basic English, but I never saw one who would admit
to understanding more of our language than the 850-word Basic
vocabulary. They occupied a half-dozen planets in a small star-cluster
about forty light-years beyond the Capella system. They had developed
normal-space reaction-drive ships before we came into contact with
them, and they had quickly picked up the hyperspace-drive from us back
in those days when the Solar League was still playing Missionaries of
Progress and trying to run a galaxy-wide Point-Four program.
In the past century, it had become almost impossible for anybody to get
into their star-group, although z'Srauff ships were orbiting in on every
planet that the League had settled or controlled. There were z'Srauff
traders and small merchants all over the galaxy, and you almost never
saw one of them without a camera. Their little meteor-mining boats were
everywhere, and all of them carried more of the most modern radar and
astrogational equipment than a meteor-miner's lifetime earnings would
I also knew that they were one of the chief causes of ulcers and
premature gray hair at the League capital on Luna. I'd done a little
reading on pre-spaceflight Terran history; I had been impressed by the
parallel between the present situation and one which had culminated, two
and a half centuries before, on the morning of 7 December, 1941.
"What," Natalenko inquired, "do you think Machiavelli, Junior would do
about the z'Srauff?"
"We have a Department of Aggression," I replied. "Its mottoes are, 'Stop
trouble before it starts,' and, 'If we have to fight, let's do it on the
other fellow's real estate.' But this situation is just a little too
delicate for literal application of those principles. An unprovoked
attack on the z'Srauff would set every other non-human race in the
galaxy against us.... Would an attack by the z'Srauff on New Texas
constitute just provocation?"
"It might. New Texas is an independent planet. Its people are
descendants of emigrants from Terra who wanted to get away from the rule
of the Solar League. We've been trying for half a century to persuade
the New Texan government to join the League. We need their planet, for
both strategic and commercial reasons. With the z'Srauff for neighbors,
they need us as much at least as we need them. The problem is to make
them understand that."
I nodded again. "And an attack by the z'Srauff would do that, too, sir,"
Natalenko tittered again. "You see, gentlemen! Our Mr. Silk picks things
up very handily, doesn't he?" He turned to Secretary of State Ghopal.
"You take it from there," he invited.
Ghopal Singh smiled benignly. "Well, that's it, Stephen," he said. "We
need a man on New Texas who can get things done. Three things, to be
"First, find out why poor Mr. Cumshaw was murdered, and what can be done
about it to maintain our prestige without alienating the New Texans.
"Second, bring the government and people of New Texas to a realization
that they need the Solar League as much as we need them.
"And, third, forestall or expose the plans for the z'Srauff invasion of
_Is that all, now?_ I thought. _He doesn't want a diplomat; he wants a
"And what," I asked, "will my official position be on New Texas, sir? Or
will I have one, of any sort?"
"Oh, yes, indeed, Mr. Silk. Your official position will be that of
Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary. That, I believe, is
the only vacancy which exists in the Diplomatic Service on that planet."
At Dumbarton Oaks Diplomatic Academy, they haze the freshmen by making
them sit on a one-legged stool and balance a teacup and saucer on one
knee while the upper classmen pelt them with ping-pong balls. Whoever
invented that and the other similar forms of hazing was one of the great
geniuses of the Service. So I sipped my coffee, set down the cup, took a
puff from my cigarette, then said:
"I am indeed deeply honored, Mr. Secretary. I trust I needn't go into
any assurances that I will do everything possible to justify your trust
"I believe he will, Mr. Secretary," Natalenko piped, in a manner that
chilled my blood.
"Yes, I believe so," Ghopal Singh said. "Now, Mr. Ambassador, there's a
liner in orbit two thousand miles off Luna, which has been held from
blasting off for the last eight hours, waiting for you. Don't bother
packing more than a few things; you can get everything you'll need
aboard, or at New Austin, the planetary capital. We have a man whom
Coördinator Natalenko has secured for us, a native New Texan, Hoddy
Ringo by name. He'll act as your personal secretary. He's aboard the
ship now. You'll have to hurry, I'm afraid.... Well, _bon voyage_, Mr.
The death-watch outside had grown to about fifteen or twenty. They were
all waiting in happy anticipation as I came out of the Secretary's
"What did he do to you, Silk?" Courtlant Staynes asked, amusedly.
"Demoted me. Kicked me off the Hooligan Diplomats," I said glumly.
"Demoted you from the Consular Service?" Staynes asked scornfully.
"Yes. He demoted me to the Cookie Pushers. Clear down to Ambassador."
They got a terrific laugh. I went out, wondering what sort of noises
they'd make, the next morning, when the appointments sheet was posted.
I gathered a few things together, mostly small personal items, and all
the microfilms that I could find on New Texas, then got aboard the Space
Navy cutter that was waiting to take me to the ship. It was a four-hour
trip and I put in the time going over my hastily-assembled microfilm
library and using a stenophone to dictate a reading list for the
As I rolled up the stenophone-tape, I wondered what sort of secretary
they had given me; and, in passing, why Natalenko's department had
Queer name, but in a galactic civilization, you find all sorts of names
and all sorts of people bearing them, so I was prepared for anything.
And I found it.
I found him standing with the ship's captain, inside the airlock, when I
boarded the big, spherical space-liner. A tubby little man, with
shoulders and arms he had never developed doing secretarial work, and a
good-natured, not particularly intelligent face.
_See the happy moron, he doesn't give a damn_, I thought.
Then I took a second look at him. He might be happy, but he wasn't a
moron. He just looked like one. Natalenko's people often did, as one of
their professional assets.
I also noticed that he had a bulge under his left armpit the size of an
eleven-mm army automatic.
He was, I'd been told, a native of New Texas. I gathered, after talking
with him for a while, that he had been away from his home planet for
over five years, was glad to be going back, and especially glad that he
was going back under the protection of Solar League diplomatic immunity.
In fact, I rather got the impression that, without such protection, he
wouldn't have been going back at all.
I made another discovery. My personal secretary, it seemed, couldn't
read stenotype. I found that out when I gave him the tape I'd dictated
aboard the cutter, to transcribe for me.
"Gosh, boss. I can't make anything out of this stuff," he confessed,
looking at the combination shorthand-Braille that my voice had put onto
"Well, then, put it in a player and transcribe it by ear," I told him.
He didn't seem to realize that that could be done.
"How did you come to be sent as my secretary, if you can't do
secretarial work?" I wanted to know.
He got out a bag of tobacco and a book of papers and began rolling a
cigarette, with one hand.
"Why, shucks, boss, nobody seemed to think I'd have to do this kinda
work," he said. "I was just sent along to show you the way around New
Texas, and see you don't get inta no trouble."
He got his handmade cigarette drawing, and hitched the strap that went
across his back and looped under his right arm. "A guy that don't know
the way around can get inta a lotta trouble on New Texas. If you call
gettin' killed trouble."
So he was a bodyguard ... and I wondered what else he was. One thing, it
would take him forty-two years to send a radio message back to Luna, and
I could keep track of any other messages he sent, in letters or on tape,
by ships. In the end, I transcribed my own tape, and settled down to
laying out my three weeks' study-course on my new post.
I found, however, that the whole thing could be learned in a few hours.
The rest of what I had was duplication, some of it contradictory, and it
all boiled down to this:
Capella IV had been settled during the first wave of extrasolar
colonization, after the Fourth World--or First Interplanetary--War.
Some time around 2100. The settlers had come from a place in North
America called Texas, one of the old United States. They had a lengthy
history--independent republic, admission to the United States, secession
from the United States, reconquest by the United States, and general
intransigence under the United States, the United Nations and the Solar
League. When the laws of non-Einsteinian physics were discovered and the
hyperspace-drive was developed, practically the entire population of
Texas had taken to space to find a new home and independence from
They had found Capella IV, a Terra-type planet, with a slightly higher
mean temperature, a lower mass and lower gravitational field, about
one-quarter water and three-quarters land-surface, at a stage of
evolutionary development approximately that of Terra during the late
Pliocene. They also found supercow, a big mammal looking like the
unsuccessful attempt of a hippopotamus to impersonate a dachshund and
about the size of a nuclear-steam locomotive. On New Texas' plains,
there were billions of them; their meat was fit for the gods of Olympus.
So New Texas had become the meat-supplier to the galaxy.
There was very little in any of the microfilm-books about the politics
of New Texas and such as it was, it was very scornful. There were such
expressions as 'anarchy tempered by assassination,' and 'grotesque
parody of democracy.'
There would, I assumed, be more exact information in the material which
had been shoved into my hand just before boarding the cutter from Luna,
in a package labeled _TOP SECRET: TO BE OPENED ONLY IN SPACE, AFTER THE
FIRST HYPERJUMP._ There was also a big trunk that had been placed in my
suite, sealed and bearing the same instructions.
I got Hoddy out of the suite as soon as the ship had passed out of the
normal space-time continuum, locked the door of my cabin and opened the
It contained only two loose-leaf notebooks, both labeled with the Solar
League and Department seals, both adorned with the customary
bloodthirsty threats against the unauthorized and the indiscreet. They
were numbered _ONE_ and _TWO_.
_ONE_ contained four pages. On the first, I read:
OF THE FIRST SOLAR LEAGUE AMBASSADOR
ANDREW JACKSON HICKOCK_
_I agree with none of the so-called information about this planet on
file with the State Department on Luna. The people of New Texas are
certainly not uncouth barbarians. Their manners and customs, while
lively and unconventional, are most charming. Their dress is graceful
and practical, not grotesque; their soft speech is pleasing to the ear.
Their flag is the original flag of the Republic of Texas; it is
definitely not a barbaric travesty of our own emblem. And the underlying
premises of their political system should, as far as possible, be
incorporated into the organization of the Solar League. Here politics is
an exciting and exacting game, in which only the true representative of
all the people can survive._
_After five years on New Texas, Andrew Jackson Hickock resigned, married
a daughter of a local rancher and became a naturalized citizen of that
planet. He is still active in politics there, often in opposition to
Solar League policies._
That didn't sound like too bad an advertisement for the planet. I was
even feeling cheerful when I turned to the next page, and:
OF THE SECOND SOLAR LEAGUE
_Yes and no; perhaps and perhaps not; pardon me; I agree with everything
you say. Yes and no; perhaps and perhaps not; pardon me; I agree..._
_After seven years on New Texas, Ambassador Godwinson was recalled;
adjudged hopelessly insane._
OF THE THIRD SOLAR LEAGUE
AMBASSADOR TO NEW TEXAS
R. F. GULLIS_
_I find it very pleasant to inform you that when you are reading this, I
will be dead._
_Committed suicide after six months on New Texas._
I turned to the last page cautiously, found:
OF THE FOURTH SOLAR LEAGUE
AMBASSADOR TO NEW TEXAS
_I came to this planet ten years ago as a man of pronounced and
outspoken convictions. I have managed to keep myself alive here by
becoming an inoffensive nonentity. If I continue in this course, it will
be only at the cost of my self-respect. Beginning tonight, I am going to
state and maintain positive opinions on the relation between this planet
and the Solar League._
_Murdered at the home of Andrew J. Hickcock. (see p. 1.)_
And that was the end of the first notebook. Nice, cheerful reading;
complete, solid briefing.
I was, frankly, almost afraid to open the second notebook. I hefted it
cautiously at first, saw that it contained only about as many pages as
the first and that those pages were sealed with a band around them.
I took a quick peek, read the words on the band:
_Before reading, open the sealed trunk which has been included with your
So I laid aside the book and dragged out the sealed trunk, hesitated,
then opened it.
Nothing shocked me more than to find the trunk ... full of clothes.
There were four pairs of trousers, light blue, dark blue, gray and
black, with wide cuffs at the bottoms. There were six or eight shirts,
their colors running the entire spectrum in the most violent shades.
There were a couple of vests. There were two pairs of short boots with
high heels and fancy leather-working, and a couple of hats with
And there was a wide leather belt, practically a leather corset.
I stared at the belt, wondering if I was really seeing what was in front
Attached to the belt were a pair of pistols in right- and left-hand
holsters. The pistols were seven-mm Krupp-Tatta Ultraspeed automatics,
and the holsters were the spring-ejection, quick-draw holsters which
were the secret of the State Department Special Services.
_This must be a mistake_, I thought. _I'm an Ambassador now and
Ambassadors never carry weapons._
The sanctity of an Ambassador's person not only made the carrying of
weapons unnecessary, so that an armed Ambassador was a contradiction of
diplomatic terms, but it would be an outrageous insult to the nation to
which he had been accredited.
Like taking a poison-taster to a friendly dinner.
Maybe I was supposed to give the belt and the holsters to Hoddy
So I tore the sealed band off the second notebook and read through it.
I was to wear the local costume on New Texas. That was something
unusual; even in the Hooligan Diplomats, we leaned over backward in
wearing Terran costume to distinguish ourselves from the people among
whom we worked.
I was further advised to start wearing the high boots immediately, on
shipboard, to accustom myself to the heels. These, I was informed, were
traditional. They had served a useful purpose, in the early days on
Terran Texas, when all travel had been on horseback. On horseless and
mechanized New Texas, they were a useless but venerated part of the
There were bits of advice about the hat, and the trousers, which for
some obscure reason were known as Levis. And I was informed, as an
order, that I was to wear the belt and the pistols at all times outside
the Embassy itself.
That was all of the second notebook.
The two notebooks, plus my conversation with Ghopal, Klüng and
Natalenko, completed my briefing for my new post.
I slid off my shoes and pulled on a pair of boots. They fitted
perfectly. Evidently I had been tapped for this job as soon as word of
Silas Cumshaw's death had reached Luna and there must have been some
fantastic hurrying to get my outfit ready.
I didn't like that any too well, and I liked the order to carry the
pistols even less. Not that I had any objection to carrying weapons,
_per se_: I had been born and raised on Theta Virgo IV, where the
children aren't allowed outside the house unattended until they've
learned to shoot.
But I did have strenuous objections to being sent, virtually ignorant of
local customs, on a mission where I was ordered to commit deliberate
provocation of the local government, immediately on the heels of my
predecessor's violent death.
The author of _Probable Future Courses of Solar League Diplomacy_ had
recommended the use of provocation to justify conquest. If the New
Texans murdered two Solar League Ambassadors in a row, nobody would
blame the League for moving in with a space-fleet and an army....
I was beginning to understand how Doctor Guillotin must have felt while
his neck was being shoved into his own invention.
I looked again at the notebooks, each marked in red: _Familiarize
yourself with contents and burn or disintegrate._
I'd have to do that, of course. There were a few non-humans and a lot of
non-League people aboard this ship. I couldn't let any of them find out
what we considered a full briefing for a new Ambassador.
So I wrapped them in the original package and went down to the lower
passenger zone, where I found the ship's third officer. I told him that
I had some secret diplomatic matter to be destroyed and he took me to
the engine room. I shoved the package into one of the mass-energy
convertors and watched it resolve itself into its constituent protons,
neutrons and electrons.
On the way back, I stopped in at the ship's bar.
Hoddy Ringo was there, wrapped up in--and I use the words literally--a
young lady from the Alderbaran system. She was on her way home from one
of the quickie divorce courts on Terra and was celebrating her marital
emancipation. They were so entangled with each other that they didn't
notice me. When they left the bar, I slipped after them until I saw them
enter the lady's stateroom. That, of course, would have Hoddy
immobilized--better word, located--for a while. So I went back to our
suite, picked the lock of Hoddy's room, and allowed myself half an hour
to search his luggage.
All of his clothes were new, but there were not a great many of them.
Evidently he was planning to re-outfit himself on New Texas. There were
a few odds and ends, the kind any man with a real home planet will hold
on to, in the luggage.
He had another eleven-mm pistol, made by Consolidated-Martian
Metalworks, mate to the one he was carrying in a shoulder-holster, and a
wide two-holster belt like the one furnished me, but quite old.
I greeted the sight and the meaning of the old holsters with joy: they
weren't the State Department Special Services type. That meant that
Hoddy was just one of Natalenko's run-of-the-gallows cutthroats, not
important enough to be issued the secret equipment.
But I was a little worried over what I found hidden in the lining of one
of his bags, a letter addressed to Space-Commander Lucius C. Stonehenge,
Aggression Department Attaché, New Austin Embassy. I didn't have either
the time or the equipment to open it. But, knowing our various Departments,
I tried to reassure myself with the thought that it was only a
letter-of-credence, with the real message to be delivered orally.
About the real message I had no doubts: _arrange the murder of
Ambassador Stephen Silk in such a way that it looks like another New
Starting that evening--or what passed for evening aboard a ship in
hyperspace--Hoddy and I began a positively epochal binge together.
I had it figured this way: as long as we were on board ship, I was
perfectly safe. On the ship, in fact, Hoddy would definitely have given
his life to save mine. I'd have to be killed on New Texas to give
Klüng's boys their excuse for moving in.
And there was always the chance, with no chance too slender for me to
ignore, that I might be able to get Hoddy drunk enough to talk, yet
still be sober enough myself to remember what he said.
Exact times, details, faces, names, came to me through a sort of hazy
blur as Hoddy and I drank something he called superbourbon--a New Texan
drink that Bourbon County, Kentucky, would never have recognized. They
had no corn on New Texas. This stuff was made out of something called
There were at least two things I got out of the binge. First, I learned
to slug down the national drink without batting an eye. Second, I
learned to control my expression as I uncovered the fact that everything
on New Texas was supersomething.
I was also cautious enough, before we really got started, to leave my
belt and guns with the purser. I didn't want Hoddy poking around those
secret holsters. And I remember telling the captain to radio New Austin
as soon as we came out of our last hyperspace-jump, then to send the
ship's doctor around to give me my hangover treatments.
But the one thing I wanted to remember, as the hangover shots brought me
back to normal life, I found was the one thing I couldn't remember. What
was the name of that girl--a big, beautiful blond--who joined the party
along with Hoddy's grass widow from Alderbaran and stayed with it to the
Damn, I wished I could remember her name!
When we were fifteen thousand miles off-planet and the lighters from New
Austin spaceport were reported on the way, I got into the skin-tight
Levis, the cataclysmic-colored shirt, and the loose vest, tucked my big
hat under my arm, and went to the purser's office for my guns, buckling
them on. When I got back to the suite, Hoddy had put on his pistols and
was practicing quick draws in front of the mirror. He took one look at
my armament and groaned.
"You're gonna get yourself killed for sure, with that rig, an' them
popguns," he told me.
"These popguns'll shoot harder and make bigger holes than that pair of
museum-pieces you're carrying," I replied.
"An' them holsters!" Hoddy continued. "Why, it'd take all day to get
your guns outa them! You better let me find you a real rig, when we get
to New Austin...."
There was a chance, of course, that he knew what I was using and wanted
to hide his knowledge. I doubted that.
"Sure, you State Department guys always know everything," he went on.
"Like them microfilm-books you was readin'. I try to tell you what
things is really like on New Texas, an' you let it go in one ear an' out
Then he wandered off to say good-bye to the grass widow from Alderbaran,
leaving me to make the last-minute check on the luggage. I was hoping
I'd be able to see that blond ... what _was_ her name; Gail
something-or-other. Let's see, she'd been at some Terran university, and
she was on her way home to ... to New Texas! Of course!
I saw her, half an hour later, in the crowd around the airlock when the
lighters came alongside, and I tried to push my way toward her. As I
did, the airlock opened, the crowd surged toward it, and she was carried
along. Then the airlock closed, after she had passed through and before
I could get to it. That meant I'd have to wait for the second lighter.
So I made the best of it, and spent the next half-hour watching the disc
of the planet grow into a huge ball that filled the lower half of the
viewscreen and then lose its curvature, and instead of moving in toward
the planet, we were going down toward it.
New Austin spaceport was a huge place, a good fifty miles outside the
city. As we descended, I could see that it was laid out like a wheel,
with the landings and the blast-off stands around the hub, and high
buildings--packing houses and refrigeration plants--along the many
spokes. It showed a technological level quite out of keeping with the
accounts I had read, or the stories Hoddy had told, about the simple
ranch life of the planet. Might be foreign capital invested there, and I
made a mental note to find out whose.
On the other hand, Old Texas, on Terra, had been heavily industrialized;
so much so that the state itself could handle the gigantic project of
building enough spaceships to move almost the whole population into
Then the landing-field was rushing up at us, with the nearer ends of the
roadways and streets drawing close and the far ends lengthening out away
from us. The other lighter was already down, and I could see a crowd
There was a crowd waiting for us when we got out and went down the
escalators to the ground, and as I had expected, a special group of men
waiting for me. They were headed by a tall, slender individual in the
short black Eisenhower jacket, gray-striped trousers and black homburg
that was the uniform of the Diplomatic Service, alias the Cookie
Over their heads at the other rocket-boat, I could see the gold-gleaming
head of the girl I'd met on the ship.
I tried to push through the crowd and get to her. As I did, the Cookie
Pusher got in my way.
"Mr. Silk! Mr. Ambassador! Here we are!" he was clamoring. "The car for
the Embassy is right over here!" He clutched my elbow. "You have no idea
how glad we all are to see you, Mr. Ambassador!"
"Yes, yes; of course. Now, there's somebody over there I
have to see, at once." I tried to pull myself loose from his grasp.
Across the concrete between the two lighters, I could see the girl push
out of the crowd around her and wave a hand to me. I tried to yell to
her; but just then another lighter, loaded with freight, started to lift
out at another nearby stand, with the roar of half a dozen Niagaras. The
thin man in the striped trousers added to the uproar by shouting into my
ear and pulling at me.
"We haven't time!" he finally managed to make himself heard. "We're
dreadfully late now, sir! You must come with us."
Hoddy, too, had caught hold of me by the other arm.
"Come on, boss. There's gotta be some reason why he's got himself in an
uproar about whatever it is. You'll see her again."
Then, the whole gang--Hoddy, the thin man with the black homburg, his
younger accomplice in identical garb, and the chauffeur--all closed in
on me and pushed me, pulled me, half-carried me, fifty yards across the
concrete to where their air-car was parked. By this time, the tall
blond had gotten clear of the mob around her and was waving frantically
at me. I tried to wave back, but I was literally crammed into the car
and flung down on the seat. At the same time, the chauffeur was jumping
in, extending the car's wings, jetting up.
"Great God!" I bellowed. "This is the damnedest piece of impudence I've
ever had to suffer from any subordinates in my whole State Department
experience! I want an explanation out of you, and it'd better be a good
There was a deafening silence in the car for a moment. The thin man
moved himself off my lap, then sat there looking at me with the
heartbroken eyes of a friendly dog that had just been kicked for
something which wasn't really its fault.
"Mr. Ambassador, you can't imagine how sorry we all are, but if we
hadn't gotten you away from the spaceport and to the Embassy at once, we
would all have been much sorrier."
"Somebody here gunnin' for the Ambassador?" Hoddy demanded sharply.
"Oh, no! I hadn't even thought of that," the thin man almost gibbered.
"But your presence at the Embassy is of immediate and urgent necessity.
You have no idea of the state into which things have gotten.... Oh,
pardon me, Mr. Ambassador. I am Gilbert W. Thrombley, your chargé
d'affaires." I shook hands with him. "And Mr. Benito Gomez, the
Secretary of the Embassy." I shook hands with him, too, and started to
introduce Mr. Hoddy Ringo.
Hoddy, however, had turned to look out the rear window; immediately, he
gave a yelp.
"We got a tail, boss! Two of them! Look back there!"
There were two black eight-passenger aircars, of the same model,
whizzing after us, making an obvious effort to overtake us. The
chauffeur cursed and fired his auxiliary jets, then his rocket-booster.
Immediately, black rocket-fuel puffs shot away from the pursuing
Hoddy turned in his seat, cranked open a porthole-slit in the window,
and poked one of his eleven-mm's out, letting the whole clip go.
Thrombley and Gomez slid down onto the floor, and both began trying to
drag me down with them, imploring me not to expose myself.
As far as I could see, there was nothing to expose myself to. The other
cars kept coming, but neither of them were firing at us. There was also
no indication that Hoddy's salvo had had any effect on them. Our
chauffeur went into a perfect frenzy of twisting and dodging, at the
same time using his radiophone to tell somebody to get the goddamn
gate open in a hurry. I saw the blue skies and green plains of New
Texas replacing one another above, under, in front of and behind us.
Then the car set down on a broad stretch of concrete, the wings were
retracted, and we went whizzing down a city street.
We whizzed down a number of streets. We cut corners on two wheels, and
on one wheel, and, I was prepared to swear, on no wheels. A couple of
times, with the wings retracted, we actually jetted into the air and
jumped over vehicles in front of us, landing again with bone-shaking
jolts. Then we made an abrupt turn and shot in under a concrete arch,
and a big door banged shut behind us, and we stopped, in the middle of a
wide patio, the front of the car a few inches short of a fountain. Four
or five people, in diplomatic striped trousers, local dress and the
uniform of the Space Marines, came running over.
Thrombley pulled himself erect and half-climbed, half-fell, out of the
car. Gomez got out on the other side with Hoddy; I climbed out after
A tall, sandy-haired man in the uniform of the Space Navy came over.
"What the devil's the matter, Thrombley?" he demanded. Then, seeing me,
he gave me as much of a salute as a naval officer will ever bestow on
anybody in civilian clothes.
"Mr. Silk?" He looked at my costume and the pistols on my belt in
well-bred concealment of surprise. "I'm your military attaché,
Stonehenge; Space-Commander, Space Navy."
I noticed that Hoddy's ears had pricked up, but he wasn't making any
effort to attract Stonehenge's attention. I shook hands with him,
introduced Hoddy, and offered my cigarette case around.
"You seem to have had a hectic trip from the spaceport, Mr. Ambassador.
Thrombley began accusing our driver of trying to murder the lot of us.
Hoddy brushed him aside and explained:
"Just after we'd took off, two other cars took off after us. We speeded
up, and they speeded up, too. Then your fly-boy, here, got fancy. That
shook 'em off. Time we got into the city, we'd dropped them. Nice job of
driving. Probably saved our lives."
"Shucks, that wasn't nothin'," the driver disclaimed. "When you drive
for politicians, you're either good or you're good and dead."
"I'm surprised they started so soon," Stonehenge said. Then he looked
around at my fellow-passengers, who seemed to have realized, by now,
that they were no longer dangling by their fingernails over the brink of
the grave. "But gentlemen, let's not keep the Ambassador standing out
here in the hot sun."
So we went over the arches at the side of the patio, and were about to
sit down when one of the Embassy servants came up, followed by a man in
a loose vest and blue Levis and a big hat. He had a pair of automatics
in his belt, too.
"I'm Captain Nelson; New Texas Rangers," he introduced himself. "Which
one of you-all is Mr. Stephen Silk?"
I admitted it.
The Ranger pushed back his wide hat and grinned at me.
"I just can't figure this out," he said. "You're in the right place and
the right company, but we got a report, from a mighty good source, that
you'd been kidnapped at the spaceport by a gang of thugs!"
"A blond source?" I made curving motions with my hands. "I don't blame
her. My efficient and conscientious chargé d'affaires, Mr. Thrombley,
felt that I should reach the Embassy, here, as soon as possible, and
from where she was standing, it must have looked like a kidnapping.
Fact is, it looked like one from where I was standing, too.
Was that you and your people who were chasing us? Then I must apologize
for opening fire on you ... I hope nobody was hurt."
"No, our cars are pretty well armored. You scored a couple of times on
one of them, but no harm done. I reckon after what happened to Silas
Cumshaw, you had a right to be suspicious."
I noticed that refreshments, including several bottles, had been placed
on a big wicker table under the arched veranda.
"Can I offer you a drink, Captain, in token of mutual amity?" I asked.
"Well, now, I'd like to, Mr. Ambassador, but I'm on duty ..." he began.
"You can't be. You're an officer of the Planetary Government of New
Texas, and in this Embassy, you're in the territory of the Solar
"That's right, now, Mr. Ambassador," he grinned. "Extraterritoriality.
Wonderful thing, extraterritoriality." He looked at Hoddy, who, for the
first time since I had met him, was trying to shrink into the
background. "And diplomatic immunity, too. Ain't it, Hoddy?"
After he had had his drink and departed, we all sat down. Thrombley
began speaking almost at once.
"Mr. Ambassador, you must, you simply must, issue a public statement,
immediately, sir. Only a public statement, issued promptly, will relieve
the crisis into which we have all been thrust."
"Oh, come, Mr. Thrombley," I objected. "Captain Nelson'll take care of
all that in his report to his superiors."
Thrombley looked at me for a moment as though I had been speaking to
him in Hottentot, then waved his hands in polite exasperation.
"Oh, no, no! I don't mean that, sir. I mean a public statement to the
effect that you have assumed full responsibility for the Embassy. Where
is that thing? Mr. Gomez!"
Gomez gave him four or five sheets, stapled together. He laid them on
the table, turned to the last sheet, and whipped out a pen.
"Here, sir; just sign here."
"Are you crazy?" I demanded. "I'll be damned if I'll sign that. Not till
I've taken an inventory of the physical property of the Embassy, and
familiarized myself with all its commitments, and had the books audited
by some firm of certified public accountants."
Thrombley and Gomez looked at one another. They both groaned.
"But we must have a statement of assumption of responsibility ..." Gomez
"... or the business of the Embassy will be at a dead stop, and we can't
do anything," Thrombley finished.
"Wait a moment, Thrombley," Stonehenge cut in. "I understand Mr. Silk's
attitude. I've taken command of a good many ships and installations, at
one time or another, and I've never signed for anything I couldn't see
and feel and count. I know men who retired as brigadier generals or
vice-admirals, but they retired loaded with debts incurred because as
second lieutenants or ensigns they forgot that simple rule."
He turned to me. "Without any disrespect to the chargé d'affaires, Mr.
Silk, this Embassy has been pretty badly disorganized since Mr.
Cumshaw's death. No one felt authorized, or, to put it more accurately,
no one dared, to declare himself acting head of the Embassy--"
"Because that would make him the next target?" I interrupted. "Well,
that's what I was sent here for. Mr. Gomez, as Secretary of the Embassy,
will you please, at once, prepare a statement for the press and telecast
release to the effect that I am now the authorized head of this Embassy,
responsible from this hour for all its future policies and all its
present commitments insofar as they obligate the government of the Solar
League. Get that out at once. Tomorrow, I will present my credentials to
the Secretary of State here. Thereafter, Mr. Thrombley, you can rest in
the assurance that I'll be the one they'll be shooting at."
"But you can't wait that long, Mr. Ambassador," Thrombley almost wailed.
"We must go immediately to the Statehouse. The reception for you is
already going on."
I looked at my watch, which had been regulated aboard ship for Capella
IV time. It was just 1315.
"What time do they hold diplomatic receptions on this planet, Mr.
Thrombley?" I asked.
"Oh, any time at all, sir. This one started about 0900 when the news
that the ship was in orbit off-planet got in. It'll be a barbecue, of
"Barbecued supercow! Yipeee!" Hoddy yelled. "What I been waitin' for for
It would be the vilest cruelty not to take him along, I thought. And it
would also keep him and Stonehenge apart for a while.
"But we must hurry, Mr. Ambassador," Thrombley was saying. "If you will
change, now, to formal dress ..."
And he was looking at me, gasping. I think it was the first time he had
actually seen what I was wearing.
"In native dress, Mr. Ambassador!"
Thrombley's eyes and tone were again those of an innocent spaniel caught
in the middle of a marital argument.
Then his gaze fell to my belt and his eyes became saucers. "Oh, dear!
My chargé d'affaires was shuddering and he could not look directly at
"Mr. Ambassador, I understand that you were recently appointed from the
Consular Service. I sincerely hope that you will not take it amiss if I
point out, here in private, that--"
"Mr. Thrombley, I am wearing this costume and these pistols on the
direct order of Secretary of State Ghopal Singh."
That set him back on his heels.
"I ... I can't believe it!" he exclaimed. "An ambassador is _never_
"Not when he's dealing with a government which respects the comity of
nations and the usages of diplomatic practice, no," I replied. "But the
fate of Mr. Cumshaw clearly indicates that the government of New Texas
is not such a government. These pistols are in the nature of a
not-too-subtle hint of the manner in which this government, here, is
being regarded by the government of the Solar League." I turned to
Stonehenge. "Commander, what sort of an Embassy guard have we?" I asked.
"Space Marines, sergeant and five men. I double as guard officer, sir."
"Very well. Mr. Thrombley insists that it is necessary for me to go to
this fish-fry or whatever it is immediately. I want two men, a driver
and an auto-rifleman, for my car. And from now on, I would suggest,
Commander, that you wear your sidearm at all times outside the Embassy."
"Yes, sir!" and this time, Stonehenge gave me a real salute.
"Well, I must phone the Statehouse, then," Thrombley said. "We will have
to call on Secretary of State Palme, and then on President Hutchinson."
With that, he got up, excused himself, motioned Gomez to follow, and
I got up, too, and motioned Stonehenge aside.
"Aboard ship, coming in, I was told that there's a task force of the
Space Navy on maneuvers about five light-years from here," I said.
"Yes, sir. Task Force Red-Blue-Green, Fifth Space Fleet. Fleet Admiral
Sir Rodney Tregaskis."
"Can we get hold of a fast space-boat, with hyperdrive engines, in a
"Eight or ten of them always around New Austin spaceport, available for
"All right; charter one and get out to that fleet. Tell Admiral
Tregaskis that the Ambassador at New Austin feels in need of protection;
possibility of z'Srauff invasion. I'll give you written orders. I want
the Fleet within radio call. How far out would that be, with our
"The Embassy radio isn't reliable beyond about sixty light-minutes,
"Then tell Sir Rodney to bring his fleet in that close. The invasion, if
it comes, will probably not come from the direction of the z'Srauff
star-cluster; they'll probably jump past us and move in from the other
side. I hope you don't think I'm having nightmares, Commander. Danger of
a z'Srauff invasion was pointed out to me by persons on the very highest
level, on Luna."
Stonehenge nodded. "I'm always having the same kind of nightmares, sir.
Especially since this special envoy arrived here, ostensibly to
negotiate a meteor-mining treaty." He hesitated for a moment. "We don't
want the New Texans to know, of course, that you've sent for the fleet?"
"Well, if I can wait till about midnight before I leave, I can get a
boat owned, manned and operated by Solar League people. The boat's a
dreadful-looking old tub, but she's sound and fast. The gang who own her
are pretty notorious characters--suspected of smuggling, piracy, and
what not--but they'll keep their mouths shut if well paid."
"Then pay them well," I said. "And it's just as well you're not leaving
at once. When I get back from this clambake, I'll want to have a general
informal council, and I certainly want you in on it."
On the way to the Statehouse in the aircar, I kept wondering just how
smart I had been.
I was pretty sure that the z'Srauff was getting ready for a sneak attack
on New Texas, and, as Solar League Ambassador, I of course had the right
to call on the Space Navy for any amount of armed protection.
Sending Stonehenge off on what couldn't be less than an eighteen-hour
trip would delay anything he and Hoddy might be cooking up, too.
On the other hand, with the fleet so near, they might decide to have me
rubbed out in a hurry, to justify seizing the planet ahead of the
I was in that pleasant spot called, "Damned if you do and damned if you
The Statehouse appeared to cover about a square mile of ground and it
was an insane jumble of buildings piled beside and on top of one
another, as though it had been in continuous construction ever since the
planet was colonized, eighty-odd years before.
At what looked like one of the main entrances, the car stopped. I told
our Marine driver and auto-rifleman to park the car and take in the
barbecue, but to leave word with the doorman where they could be found.
Hoddy, Thrombley and I then went in, to be met by a couple of New Texas
Rangers, one of them the officer who had called at the Embassy. They
guided us to the office of the Secretary of State.
"We're dreadfully late," Thrombley was fretting. "I do hope we haven't
kept the Secretary waiting too long."
From the looks of him, I was afraid we had. He jumped up from his desk
and hurried across the room as soon as the receptionist opened the door
for us, his hand extended.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Thrombley," he burbled nervously. "And this is the
new Ambassador, I suppose. And this--" He caught sight of Hoddy Ringo,
bringing up the rear and stopped short, hand flying to open mouth. "Oh,
So far, I had been building myself a New Texas stereotype from Hoddy
Ringo and the Ranger officer who had chased us to the Embassy. But this
frightened little rabbit of a fellow simply didn't fit it. An alien
would be justified in assigning him to an entirely different species.
Thrombley introduced me. I introduced Hoddy as my confidential secretary
and advisor. We all shook hands, and Thrombley dug my credentials out of
his briefcase and handed them to me, and I handed them to the Secretary
of State, Mr. William A. Palme. He barely glanced at them, then shook my
hand again fervently and mumbled something about "inexpressible
pleasure" and "entirely acceptable to my government."
That made me the accredited and accepted Ambassador to New Texas.
Mr. Palme hoped, or said he hoped, that my stay in New Texas would be
long and pleasant. He seemed rather less than convinced that it would
be. His eyes kept returning in horrified fascination to my belt. Each
time they would focus on the butts of my Krupp-Tattas, he would pull
them resolutely away again.
"And now, we must take you to President Hutchinson; he is most anxious
to meet you, Mr. Silk. If you will please come with me ..."
Four or five Rangers who had been loitering the hall outside moved to
follow us as we went toward the elevator. Although we had come into the
building onto a floor only a few feet above street-level, we went down
three floors from the hallway outside the Secretary of State's office,
into a huge room, the concrete floor of which was oil-stained, as
though vehicles were continually being driven in and out. It was about a
hundred feet wide, and two or three hundred in length. Daylight was
visible through open doors at the end. As we approached them, the
Rangers fanning out on either side and in front of us, I could hear a
perfect bedlam of noise outside--shouting, singing, dance-band music,
interspersed with the banging of shots.
When we reached the doors at the end, we emerged into one end of a big
rectangular plaza, at least five hundred yards in length. Most of the
uproar was centered at the opposite end, where several thousand people,
in costumes colored through the whole spectrum, were milling about.
There seemed to be at least two square-dances going on, to the music of
competing bands. At the distant end of the plaza, over the heads of the
crowd, I could see the piles and tracks of an overhead crane, towering
above what looked like an open-hearth furnace. Between us and the bulk
of the crowd, in a cleared space, two medium tanks, heavily padded with
mats, were ramming and trying to overturn each other, the mob of
spectators crowding as close to them as they dared. The din was
positively deafening, though we were at least two hundred yards from the
center of the crowd.
"Oh, dear, I always dread these things!" Palme was saying.
"Yes, absolutely anything could happen," Thrombley twittered.
"Man, this is a real barbecue!" Hoddy gloated. "Now I really feel at
"Over this way, Mr. Silk," Palme said, guiding me toward the short end
of the plaza, on our left. "We will see the President and then ..."
"... then we will all go to the barbecue."
In the center of the short end of the plaza, dwarfed by the monster
bulks of steel and concrete and glass around it, stood a little old
building of warm-tinted adobe. I had never seen it before, but somehow
it was familiar-looking. And then I remembered. Although I had never
seen it before, I had seen it pictured many times; pictured under
attack, with gunsmoke spouting from windows and parapets.
I plucked Thrombley's sleeve.
"Isn't that a replica of the Alamo?"
He was shocked. "Oh, dear, Mr. Ambassador, don't let anybody hear you
ask that. That's no replica. It _is_ the Alamo. _The_ Alamo."
I stood there a moment, looking at it. I was remembering, and finally
understanding, what my psycho-history lessons about the "Romantic
Freeze" had meant.
_They had taken this little mission-fort down, brick by adobe brick,
loaded it carefully into a spaceship, brought it here, forty two
light-years away from Terra, and reverently set it up again. Then they
had built a whole world and a whole social philosophy around it_.
It had been the dissatisfied, of course, the discontented, the dreamers,
who had led the vanguard of man's explosion into space following the
discovery of the hyperspace-drive. They had gone from Terra cherishing
dreams of things that had been dumped into the dust bin of history,
carrying with them pictures of ways of life that had passed away, or
that had never really been. Then, in their new life, on new planets,
they had set to work making those dreams and those pictures live.
And, many times, they had come close to succeeding.
These Texans, now: they had left behind the cold fact that it had been
their state's great industrial complex that had made their migration
possible. They ignored the fact that their life here on Capella IV was
possible only by application of modern industrial technology. That rodeo
down the plaza--tank-tilting instead of bronco-busting. Here they were,
living frozen in a romantic dream, a world of roving cowboys and ranch
No wonder Hoddy hadn't liked the books I had been reading on the ship.
They shook the fabric of that dream.
There were people moving about, at this relatively quiet end of the
plaza, mostly in the direction of the barbecue. Ten or twelve Rangers
loitered at the front of the Alamo, and with them I saw the dress blues
of my two Marines. There was a little three-wheeled motorcart among
them, from which they were helping themselves to food and drink. When
they saw us coming, the two Marines shoved their sandwiches into the
hands of a couple of Rangers and tried to come to attention.
"At ease, at ease," I told them. "Have a good time, boys. Hoddy, you
better get in on some of this grub; I may be inside for quite a while."
As soon as the Rangers saw Hoddy, they hastily got things out of their
right hands. Hoddy grinned at them.
"Take it easy, boys," he said. "I'm protected by the game laws. I'm a
diplomat, I am."
There were a couple of Rangers lounging outside the door of the
President's office and both of them carried autorifles, implying things
I didn't like.
I had seen the President of the Solar League wandering around the
dome-city of Artemis unattended, looking for all the world like a
professor in his academic halls. Since then, maybe before then, I had
always had a healthy suspicion of governments whose chiefs had to
surround themselves with bodyguards.
But the President of New Texas, John Hutchinson, was alone in his office
when we were shown in. He got up and came around his desk to greet us, a
slender, stoop-shouldered man in a black-and-gold laced jacket. He had a
narrow compressed mouth and eyes that seemed to be watching every corner
of the room at once. He wore a pair of small pistols in cross-body
holsters under his coat, and he always kept one hand or the other close
to his abdomen.
He was like, and yet unlike, the Secretary of State. Both had the look
of hunted animals; but where Palme was a rabbit, twitching to take
flight at the first whiff of danger, Hutchinson was a cat who hears
hounds baying--ready to run if he could, or claw if he must.
"Good day, Mr. Silk," he said, shaking hands with me after the
introductions. "I see you're heeled; you're smart. You wouldn't be here
today if poor Silas Cumshaw'd been as smart as you are. Great man,
though; a wise and farseeing statesman. He and I were real friends."
"You know who Mr. Silk brought with him as bodyguard?" Palme asked.
"Oh, my God! I thought this planet was rid of him!" The President turned
to me. "You got a good trigger-man, though, Mr. Ambassador. Good man to
watch your back for you. But lot of folks here won't thank you for
bringing him back to New Texas."
He looked at his watch. "We have time for a little drink, before we go
outside, Mr. Silk," he said. "Care to join me?"
I assented and he got a bottle of superbourbon out of his desk, with
four glasses. Palme got some water tumblers and brought the pitcher of
ice-water from the cooler.
I noticed that the New Texas Secretary of State filled his three-ounce
liquor glass to the top and gulped it down at once. He might act as
though he were descended from a long line of maiden aunts, but he took
his liquor in blasts that would have floored a spaceport labor-boss.
We had another drink, a little slower, and chatted for a while, and then
Hutchinson said, regretfully that we'd have to go outside and meet the
folks. Outside, our guards--Hoddy, the two Marines, the Rangers who had
escorted us from Palme's office, and Hutchinson's retinue--surrounded
us, and we made our way down the plaza, through the crowd. The
din--ear-piercing yells, whistles, cowbells, pistol shots, the cacophony
of the two dance-bands, and the chorus-singing, of which I caught only
the words: _The skies of freedom are above you!_--was as bad as New
Year's Eve in Manhattan or Nairobi or New Moscow, on Terra.
"Don't take all this as a personal tribute, Mr. Silk!" Hutchinson
screamed into my ear. "On this planet, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a good
barbecue halloweth any cause!"
That surprised me, at the moment. Later I found out that John Hutchinson
was one of the leading scholars on New Texas and had once been president
of one of their universities. New Texas Christian, I believe.
As we got up onto the platform, close enough to the barbecue pits to
feel the heat from them, somebody let off what sounded like a fifty-mm
anti-tank gun five or six times. Hutchinson grabbed a microphone and
bellowed into it: "Ladies and gentlemen! Your attention, please!"
The noise began to diminish, slowly, until I could hear one voice, in
the crowd below:
"Shut up, you damn fools! We can't eat till this is over!"
Hutchinson introduced me, in very few words. I gathered that lengthy
speeches at barbecues were not popular on New Texas.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" I yelled into the microphone. "Appreciative as I
am of this honor, there is one here who is more deserving of your notice
than I; one to whom I, also, pay homage. He's over there on the fire,
and I want a slice of him as soon as possible!"
That got a big ovation. There was, beside the water pitcher, a bottle of
superbourbon. I ostentatiously threw the water out of the glass, poured
a big shot of the corrosive stuff, and downed it.
"For God's sake, let's eat!" I finished. Then I turned to Thrombley, who
was looking like a priest who has just seen the bishop spit in the
holy-water font. "Stick close to me," I whispered. "Cue me in on the
local notables, and the other members of the Diplomatic Corps." Then we
all got down off the platform, and a band climbed up and began playing
one of those raucous "cowboy ballads" which had originated in Manhattan
about the middle of the Twentieth Century.
"The sandwiches'll be here in a moment, Mr. Ambassador," Hutchinson
screamed--in effect, whispered--in my ear. "Don't feel any reluctance
about shaking hands with a sandwich in your other hand; that's standard
practice, here. You struck just the right note, up there. That business
with the liquor was positively inspired!"
The sandwiches--huge masses of meat and hot relish, wrapped in tortillas
of some sort--arrived and I bit into one.
I'd been eating supercow all my life, frozen or electron-beamed for
transportation, and now I was discovering that I had never really eaten
supercow before. I finished the first sandwich in surprisingly short
order and was starting on my second when the crowd began coming.
First, the Diplomatic Corps, the usual collection of weirdies, human and
There was the Ambassador from Tara, in a suit of what his planet
produced as a substitute for Irish homespuns. His Embassy, if it was
like the others I had seen elsewhere, would be an outsize cottage with
whitewashed walls and a thatched roof, with a bowl of milk outside the
door for the Little People ...
The Ambassador from Alpheratz II, the South African Nationalist planet,
with a full beard, and old fashioned plug hat and tail-coat. They were a
frustrated lot. They had gone into space to practice _apartheid_ and had
settled on a planet where there was no other intelligent race to be
The Mormon Ambassador from Deseret--Delta Camelopardalis V....
The Ambassador from Spica VII, a short jolly-looking little fellow, with
a head like a seal's, long arms, short legs and a tail like a
The Ambassador from Beta Cephus VI, who could have passed for human if
he hadn't had blood with a copper base instead of iron. His skin was a
dark green and his hair was a bright blue....
I was beginning to correct my first impression that Thrombley was a
complete dithering fool. He stood at my left elbow, whispering the names
and governments and home planets of the Ambassadors as they came up,
handing me little slips of paper on which he had written phonetically
correct renditions of the greetings I would give them in their own
language. I was still twittering a reply to the greeting of
Nanadabadian, from Beta Cephus VI, when he whispered to me:
"Here it comes, sir. The z'Srauff!"
The z'Srauff were reasonably close to human stature and appearance,
allowing for the fact that their ancestry had been canine instead of
simian. They had, of course, longer and narrower jaws than we have, and
definitely carnivorous teeth.
There were stories floating around that they enjoyed barbecued Terran
even better than they did supercow and hot relish.
This one advanced, extending his three-fingered hand.
"I am most happy to make connection with Solar League representative,"
he said. "I am named Gglafrr Ddespttann Vuvuvu."
No wonder Thrombley let him introduce himself. I answered in the Basic
English that was all he'd admit to understanding:
"The name of your great nation has gone before you to me. The stories we
tell to our young of you are at the top of our books. I have hope to
make great pleasure in you and me to be friends."
Gglafrr Vuvuvu's smile wavered a little at the oblique reference to the
couple of trouncings our Space Navy had administered to z'Srauff ships
in the past. "We will be in the same place again times with no number,"
the alien replied. "I have hope for you that time you are in this place
will be long and will put pleasure in your heart."
Then the pressure of the line behind him pushed him on. Cabinet Members;
Senators and Representatives; prominent citizens, mostly Judge
so-and-so, or Colonel this-or-that. It was all a blur, so much so that
it was an instant before I recognized the gleaming golden hair and the
"Thank you! I have met the Ambassador." The lovely voice was shaking
with restrained anger.
"Gail!" I exclaimed.
"Your father coming to the barbecue, Gail?" President Hutchinson was
"He ought to be here any minute. He sent me on ahead from the hotel. He
wants to meet the Ambassador. That's why I joined the line."
"Well, suppose I leave Mr. Silk in your hands for a while," Hutchinson
said. "I ought to circulate around a little."
"Yes. Just leave him in my hands!" she said vindictively.
"What's wrong, Gail?" I wanted to know. "I know, I was supposed to meet
you at the spaceport, but--"
"You made a beautiful fool of me at the spaceport!"
"Look, I can explain everything. My Embassy staff insisted on hurrying
Somebody gave a high-pitched whoop directly behind me and emptied the
clip of a pistol. I couldn't even hear what else I said. I couldn't hear
what she said, either, but it was something angry.
"You have to listen to me!" I roared in her ear. "I can explain
"Any diplomat can explain anything!" she shouted back.
"Look, Gail, you're hanging an innocent man!" I yelled back at her. "I'm
entitled to a fair trial!"
Somebody on the platform began firing his pistol within inches of the
loud-speakers and it sounded like an H-bomb going off. She grabbed my
wrist and dragged me toward a door under the platform.
"Down here!" she yelled. "And this better be good, Mr. Silk!"
We went down a spiral ramp, lighted by widely-scattered overhead lights.
"Space-attack shelter," she explained. "And look: what goes on in
space-ships is one thing, but it's as much as a girl's reputation is
worth to come down here during a barbecue."
There seemed to be quite few girls at that barbecue who didn't care what
happened to their reputations. We discovered that after looking into a
couple of passageways that branched off the entrance.
"Over this way," Gail said, "Confederate Courts Building. There won't be
anything going on over here, now."
I told her, with as much humorous detail as possible, about how
Thrombley had shanghaied me to the Embassy, and about the chase by the
Rangers. Before I was half through, she was laughing heartily, all
traces of her anger gone. Finally, we came to a stairway, and at the
head of it to a small door.
"It's been four years that I've been away from here," she said. "I think
there's a reading room of the Law Library up here. Let's go in and enjoy
the quiet for a while."
But when we opened the door, there was a Ranger standing inside.
"Come to see a trial, Mr. Silk? Oh, hello, Gail. Just in time; they're
going to prepare for the next trial."
As he spoke, something clicked at the door. Gail looked at me in
"Now we're locked in," she said. "We can't get out till the
I looked around.
We were on a high balcony, at the end of a long, narrow room. In front
of us, windows rose to the ceiling, and it was evident that the floor of
the room was about twenty feet below ground level. Outside, I could see
the barbecue still going on, but not a murmur of noise penetrated to us.
What seemed to be the judge's bench was against the outside wall, under
the tall windows. To the right of it was a railed stand with a chair in
it, and in front, arranged in U-shape, were three tables at which a
number of men were hastily conferring. There were nine judges in a row
on the bench, all in black gowns. The spectators' seats below were
filled with people, and there were quite a few up here on the balcony.
"What is this? Supreme Court?" I asked as Gail piloted me to a couple of
seats where we could be alone.
"No, Court of Political Justice," she told me. "This is the court that's
going to try those three Bonney brothers, who killed Mr. Cumshaw."
It suddenly occurred to me that this was the first time I had heard
anything specific about the death of my predecessor.
"That isn't the trial that's going on now, I hope?"
"Oh, no; that won't be for a couple of days. Not till after you can
arrange to attend. I don't know what this trial is. I only got home
"What's the procedure here?" I wanted to know.
"Well, those nine men are judges," she began. "The one in the middle is
President Judge Nelson. You've met his son--the Ranger officer who
chased you from the spaceport. He's a regular jurist. The other eight
are prominent citizens who are drawn from a panel, like a jury. The men
at the table on the left are the prosecution: friends of the politician
who was killed. And the ones on the right are the defense: they'll try
to prove that the dead man got what was coming to him. The ones in the
middle are friends of the court: they're just anybody who has any
interest in the case--people who want to get some point of law cleared
up, or see some precedent established, or something like that."
"You seem to assume that this is a homicide case," I mentioned.
"They generally are. Sometimes mayhem, or wounding, or simple assault,
There had been some sort of conference going on in the open space of
floor between the judges' bench and the three tables. It broke up, now,
and the judge in the middle rapped with his gavel.
"Are you gentlemen ready?" he asked. "All right, then. Court of
Political Justice of the Confederate Continents of New Texas is now in
session. Case of the friends of S. Austin Maverick, deceased, late of
James Bowie Continent, versus Wilbur Whately."
"My God, did somebody finally kill Aus Maverick?" Gail whispered.
On the center table, in front of the friends of the court, both sides
seemed to have piled their exhibits; among the litter I saw some torn
clothing, a big white sombrero covered with blood, and a long machete.
"The general nature of the case," the judge was saying, "is that the
defendant, Wilbur Whately, of Sam Houston Continent, is here charged
with divers offenses arising from the death of the Honorable S. Austin
Maverick, whom he killed on the front steps of the Legislative Assembly
Building, here in New Austin...."
_What goes on here?_ I thought angrily. _This is the rankest instance of
a pre-judged case I've ever seen._ I started to say as much to Gail, but
she hushed me.
"I want to hear the specifications," she said.
A man at the prosecution table had risen.
"Please the court," he began, "the defendant, Wilbur Whately, is here
charged with political irresponsibility and excessive atrocity in
exercising his constitutional right of criticism of a practicing
"The specifications are, as follows: That, on the afternoon of May
Seventh, Anno Domini 2193, the defendant here present did arm himself
with a machete, said machete not being one of his normal and accustomed
weapons, and did loiter in wait on the front steps of the Legislative
Assembly Building in the city of New Austin, Continent of Sam Houston,
and did approach the decedent, addressing him in abusive, obscene, and
indecent language, and did set upon and attack him with the machete
aforesaid, causing the said decedent, S. Austin Maverick, to die."
The court wanted to know how the defendant would plead. Somebody,
without bothering to rise, said, "Not guilty, Your Honor," from the
There was a brief scraping of chairs; four of five men from the defense
and the prosecution tables got up and advanced to confer in front of the
bench, comparing sheets of paper. The man who had read the charges,
obviously the chief prosecutor, made himself the spokesman.
"Your Honor, defense and prosecution wish to enter the following
stipulations: That the decedent was a practicing politician within the
meaning of the Constitution, that he met his death in the manner stated
in the coroner's report, and that he was killed by the defendant, Wilbur
"Is that agreeable to you, Mr. Vincent?" the judge wanted to know.
The defense answered affirmatively. I sat back, gaping like a fool. Why,
that was practically--no, it _was_--a confession.
"All right, gentlemen," the judge said. "Now we have all that out of the
way, let's get on with the case."
As though there were any case to get on with! I fully expected them to
take it on from there in song, words by Gilbert and music by Sullivan.
"Well, Your Honor, we have a number of character witnesses," the
prosecution--prosecution, for God's sake!--announced.
"Skip them," the defense said. "We stipulate."
"But you can't stipulate character testimony," the prosecution argued.
"You don't know what our witnesses are going to testify to."
"Sure we do: they're going to give us a big long shaggy-dog story about
the Life and Miracles of Saint Austin Maverick. We'll agree in advance
to all that; this case is concerned only with his record as a
politician. And as he spent the last fifteen years in the Senate, that's
all a matter of public record. I assume that the prosecution is going to
introduce all that, too?"
"Well, naturally ..." the prosecutor began.
"Including his public acts on the last day of his life?" the counsel for
the defense demanded. "His actions on the morning of May seventh as
chairman of the Finance and Revenue Committee? You going to introduce
that as evidence for the prosecution?"
"Well, now ..." the prosecutor began.
"Your Honor, we ask to have a certified copy of the proceedings of the
Senate Finance and Revenue Committee for the morning of May Seventh,
2193, read into the record of this court," the counsel for the defense
said. "And thereafter, we rest our case."
"Has the prosecution anything to say before we close the court?" Judge
"Well, Your Honor, this seems ... that is, we ought to hear both sides
of it. My old friend, Aus Maverick, was really a fine man; he did a lot
of good for the people of his continent...."
"Yeah, we'd of lynched him, when he got back, if somebody hadn't chopped
him up here in New Austin!" a voice from the rear of the courtroom broke
The prosecution hemmed and hawed for a moment, and then announced, in a
hasty mumble, that it rested.
"I will now close the court," Judge Nelson said. "I advise everybody to
keep your seats. I don't think it's going to be closed very long."
And then, he actually closed the court; pressing a button on the bench,
he raised a high black screen in front of him and his colleagues. It
stayed up for some sixty seconds, and then dropped again.
"The Court of Political Justice has reached a verdict," he announced.
"Wilbur Whately, and your attorney, approach and hear the verdict."
The defense lawyer motioned a young man who had been sitting beside him
to rise. In the silence that had fallen, I could hear the defendant's
boots squeaking as he went forward to hear his fate. The judge picked up
a belt and a pair of pistols that had been lying in front of him.
"Wilbur Whately," he began, "this court is proud to announce that you
have been unanimously acquitted of the charge of political
irresponsibility, and of unjustified and excessive atrocity.
"There was one dissenting vote on acquitting you of the charge of
political irresponsibility; one of the associate judges felt that the
late unmitigated scoundrel, Austin Maverick, ought to have been skinned
alive, an inch at a time. You are, however, acquitted of that charge,
"You all know," he continued, addressing the entire assemblage, "the
reason for which this young hero cut down that monster of political
iniquity, S. Austin Maverick. On the very morning of his justly-merited
death, Austin Maverick, using the powers of his political influence,
rammed through the Finance and Revenue Committee a bill entitled 'An Act
for the Taxing of Personal Incomes, and for the Levying of a Withholding
Tax.' Fellow citizens, words fail me to express my horror of this
diabolic proposition, this proposed instrument of tyrannical extortion,
borrowed from the Dark Ages of the Twentieth Century! Why, if this young
nobleman had not taken his blade in hand, I'd have killed the
He leaned forward, extending the belt and holsters to the defendant.
"I therefore restore to you your weapons, taken from you when, in
compliance with the law, you were formally arrested. Buckle them on,
and, assuming your weapons again, go forth from this court a free man,
Wilbur Whately. And take with you that machete with which you vindicated
the liberties and rights of all New Texans. Bear it reverently to your
home, hang it among your lares and penates, cherish it, and dying,
mention it within your will, bequeathing it as a rich legacy unto your
issue! Court adjourned; next session 0900 tomorrow. For Chrissake, let's
get out of here before the barbecue's over!"
Some of the spectators, drooling for barbecued supercow, began crowding
and jostling toward the exits; more of them were pushing to the front of
the courtroom, cheering and waving their hip-flasks. The prosecution
and about half of the friends of the court hastily left by a side door,
probably to issue statements disassociating themselves from the deceased
"So that's the court that's going to try the men who killed Ambassador
Cumshaw," I commented, as Gail and I went out. "Why, the purpose of that
court seems to be to acquit murderers."
"Murderers?" She was indignant. "That wasn't murder. He just killed a
politician. All the court could do was determine whether or not the
politician needed it, and while I never heard about Maverick's
income-tax proposition, I can't see how they could have brought in any
other kind of a verdict. Of all the outrageous things!"
I was thoughtfully silent as we went out into the plaza, which was still
a riot of noise and polychromatic costumes. And my thoughts were as
weltered as the scene before me.
Apparently, on New Texas, killing a politician wasn't regarded as
_mallum in se_, and was _mallum prohibitorum_ only to the extent that
what happened to the politician was in excess of what he deserved. I
began to understand why Palme was such a scared rabbit, why Hutchinson
had that hunted look and kept his hands always within inches of his
I began to feel more pity than contempt for Thrombley, too. _He's been
on this planet too long and he should never have been sent here in the
first place. I'll rotate him home as soon as possible...._
Then the full meaning of what I had seen finally got through to me: if
they were going to try the killers of Cumshaw in that court, that meant
that on New Texas, foreign diplomats were regarded as practicing
That made me a practicing politician too!
And that's why, when we got back to the vicinity of the bandstand, I
had my right hand close to my pistol, with my thumb on the inconspicuous
little spot of silver inlay that operated the secret holster mechanism.
I saw Hutchinson and Palme and Thrombley ahead. With them was a
newcomer, a portly, ruddy-faced gentleman with a white mustache and
goatee, dressed in a white suit. Gail broke away from me and ran toward
him. This, I thought, would be her father; now I would be introduced and
find out just what her last name was. I followed, more slowly, and saw a
waiter, with a wheeled serving-table, move in behind the group which she
So I saw what none of them did--the waiter suddenly reversed his long
carving-knife and poised himself for a blow at President Hutchinson's
back. I simply pressed the little silver stud on my belt, the
Krupp-Tatta popped obediently out of the holster into my open hand. I
thumbed off the safety and swung up; when my sights closed on the rising
hand that held the knife, I fired.
Hoddy Ringo, who had been holding a sandwich with one hand and a drink
with the other, dropped both and jumped on the man whose hand I had
smashed. A couple of Rangers closed in and grabbed him, also. The group
around President Hutchinson had all turned and were staring from me to
the man I had shot, and from him to the knife with the broken handle,
lying on the ground.
Hutchinson spoke first. "Well, Mr. Ambassador! My Government thanks your
Government! That was nice shooting!"
"Hey, you been holdin' out on me!" Hoddy accused. "I never knew you was
that kinda gunfighter!"
"There's a new wrinkle," the man with the white goatee said. "We'll have
to screen the help at these affairs a little more closely." He turned to
me. "Mr. Ambassador, New Texas owes you a great deal for saving the
President's life. If you'll get that pistol out of your hand, I'd be
proud to shake it, sir."
I holstered my automatic, and took his hand. Gail was saying, "Stephen,
this is my father," and at the same time, Palme, the Secretary of State,
was doing it more formally:
"Ambassador Silk, may I present one of our leading citizens and large
ranchers, Colonel Andrew Jackson Hickock."
Dumbarton Oaks had taught me how to maintain the proper diplomat's
unchanging expression; drinking superbourbon had been a post-graduate
course. I needed that training as I finally learned Gail's last name.
It was early evening before we finally managed to get away from the
barbecue. Thrombley had called the Embassy and told them not to wait
dinner for us, so the staff had finished eating and were relaxing in the
patio when our car came in through the street gate. Stonehenge and
another man came over to meet us as we got out--a man I hadn't met
He was a little fellow, half-Latin, half-Oriental; in New Texas costume
and wearing a pair of pistols like mine, in State Department Special
Services holsters. He didn't look like a Dumbarton Oaks product: I
thought he was more likely an alumnus of some private detective agency.
"Mr. Francisco Parros, our Intelligence man," Stonehenge introduced him.
"Sorry I wasn't here when you arrived, Mr. Silk," Parros said. "Out
checking on some things. But I saw that bit of shooting, on the telecast
screen in a bar over town. You know, there was a camera right over the
bandstand that caught the whole thing--you and Miss Hickock coming
toward the President and his party, Miss Hickock running forward to her
father, the waiter going up behind Hutchinson with the knife, and then
that beautiful draw and snap shot. They ran it again a couple of times
on the half-hourly newscast. Everybody in New Austin, maybe on New
Texas, is talking about it, now."
"Yes, indeed, sir," Gomez, the Embassy Secretary, said, joining us.
"You've made yourself more popular in the eight hours since you landed
than poor Mr. Cumshaw had been able to do in the ten years he spent
here. But, I'm afraid, sir, you've given me a good deal of work,
answering your fan-mail."
We went over and sat down at one of the big tables under the arches at
the side of the patio.
"Well, that's all to the good," I said. "I'm going to need a lot of
local good will, in the next few weeks. No thanks, Mr. Parros," I added,
as the Intelligence man picked up a bottle and made to pour for me.
"I've been practically swimming in superbourbon all afternoon. A little
black coffee, if you don't mind. And now, gentlemen, if you'll all be
seated, we'll see what has to be done."
"A council of war, in effect, Mr. Ambassador?" Stonehenge inquired.
"Let's call it a council to estimate the situation. But I'll have to
find out from you first exactly what the situation here is."
Thrombley stirred uneasily. "But sir, I confess that I don't understand.
Your briefing on Luna...."
"Was practically nonexistent. I had a total of six hours to get aboard
ship, from the moment I was notified that I had been appointed to this
"Incredible!" Thrombley murmured.
I wondered what he'd say if I told him that I thought it was
"Naturally, I spent some time on the ship reading up on this planet, but
I know practically nothing about what's been going on here in, say, the
last year. And all I know about the death of Mr. Cumshaw is that he is
said to have been killed by three brothers named Bonney."
"So you'll want just about everything, Mr. Silk," Thrombley said.
"Really, I don't know where to begin."
"Start with why and how Mr. Cumshaw was killed. The rest, I believe,
will key into that."
So they began; Thrombley, Stonehenge and Parros doing the talking. It
came to this:
Ever since we had first established an Embassy on New Texas, the goal of
our diplomacy on this planet had been to secure it into the Solar
League. And it was a goal which seemed very little closer to realization
now than it had been twenty-three years before.
"You must know, by now, what politics on this planet are like, Mr.
Silk," Thrombley said.
"I have an idea. One Ambassador gone native, another gone crazy, the
third killed himself, the fourth murdered."
"Yes, indeed. I've been here fifteen years, myself...."
"That's entirely too long for anybody to be stationed in this place," I
told him. "If I'm not murdered, myself, in the next couple of weeks, I'm
going to see that you and any other member of this staff who's been here
over ten years are rotated home for a tour of duty at Department
"Oh, would you, Mr. Silk? I would be so happy...."
Thrombley wasn't much in the way of an ally, but at least he had a
sound, selfish motive for helping me stay alive. I assured him I would
get him sent back to Luna, and then went on with the discussion.
Up until six months ago, Silas Cumshaw had modeled himself after the
typical New Texas politician. He had always worn at least two faces, and
had always managed to place himself on every side of every issue at
once. Nothing he ever said could possibly be construed as controversial.
Naturally, the cause of New Texan annexation to the Solar League had
made no progress whatever.
Then, one evening, at a banquet, he had executed a complete 180-degree
turn, delivering a speech in which he proclaimed that union with the
Solar League was the only possible way in which New Texans could retain
even a vestige of local sovereignty. He had talked about an invasion as
though the enemy's ships were already coming out of hyperspace, and had
named the invader, calling the z'Srauff "our common enemy." The z'Srauff
Ambassador, also present, had immediately gotten up and stalked out,
amid a derisive chorus of barking and baying from the New Texans. The
New Texans were first shocked and then wildly delighted; they had been
so used to hearing nothing but inanities and high-order abstractions
from their public figures that the Solar League Ambassador had become a
"Sounds as though there is a really strong sentiment at what used to be
called the grass-roots level in favor of annexation," I commented.
"There is," Parros told me. "Of course, there is a very strong
isolationist, anti-annexation, sentiment, too. The sentiment in favor
of annexation is based on the point Mr. Cumshaw made--the danger of
conquest by the z'Srauff. Against that, of course, there is fear of
higher taxes, fear of loss of local sovereignty, fear of abrogation of
local customs and institutions, and chauvinistic pride."
"We can deal with some of that by furnishing guarantees of local
self-government; the emotional objections can be met by convincing them
that we need the great planet of New Texas to add glory and luster to
the Solar League," I said. "You think, then, that Mr. Cumshaw was
assassinated by opponents of annexation?"
"Of course, sir," Thrombley replied. "These Bonneys were only hirelings.
Here's what happened, on the day of the murder:
"It was the day after a holiday, a big one here on New Texas,
celebrating some military victory by the Texans on Terra, a battle
called San Jacinto. We didn't have any business to handle, because all
the local officials were home nursing hangovers, so when Colonel Hickock
"Who?" I asked sharply.
"Colonel Hickock. The father of the young lady you were so attentive to
at the barbecue. He and Mr. Cumshaw had become great friends, beginning
shortly before the speech the Ambassador made at that banquet. He called
about 0900, inviting Mr. Cumshaw out to his ranch for the day, and as
there was nothing in the way of official business, Mr. Cumshaw said he'd
be out by 1030.
"When he got there, there was an aircar circling about, near the
ranchhouse. As Mr. Cumshaw got out of his car and started up the front
steps, somebody in this car landed it on the driveway and began
shooting with a twenty-mm auto-rifle. Mr. Cumshaw was hit several times,
and killed instantly."
"The fellows who did the shooting were damned lucky," Stonehenge took
over. "Hickock's a big rancher. I don't know how much you know about
supercow-ranching, sir, but those things have to be herded with tanks
and light aircraft, so that every rancher has at his disposal a fairly
good small air-armor combat team. Naturally, all the big ranchers are
colonels in the Armed Reserve. Hickock has about fifteen fast fighters,
and thirty medium tanks armed with fifty-mm guns. He also has some
AA-guns around his ranch house--every once in a while, these ranchers
get to squabbling among themselves.
"Well, these three Bonney brothers were just turning away when a burst
from the ranch house caught their jet assembly, and they could only get
as far as Bonneyville, thirty miles away, before they had to land. They
landed right in front of the town jail.
"This Bonneyville's an awful shantytown; everybody in it is related to
everybody else. The mayor, for instance, Kettle-Belly Sam Bonney, is an
uncle of theirs.
"These three boys--Switchblade Joe Bonney, Jack-High Abe Bonney and
Turkey-Buzzard Tom Bonney--immediately claimed sanctuary in the jail, on
the grounds that they had been near to--get that; I think that indicates
the line they're going to take at the trial--_near_ to a political
assassination. They were immediately given the protection of the jail,
which is about the only well-constructed building in the place,
practically a fort."
"You think that was planned in advance?" I asked.
Parros nodded emphatically. "I do. There was a hell of a big gang of
these Bonneys at the jail, almost the entire able-bodied population of
the place. As soon as Switchblade and Jack-High and Turkey-Buzzard
landed, they were rushed inside and all the doors barred. About three
minutes later, the Hickock outfit started coming in, first aircraft and
then armor. They gave that town a regular Georgie Patton style
"Yes. I'm only sorry I wasn't there to see it," Stonehenge put in. "They
knocked down or burned most of the shanties, and then they went to work
on the jail. The aircraft began dumping these firebombs and stun-bombs
that they use to stop supercow stampedes, and the tank-guns began to
punch holes in the walls. As soon as Kettle-Belly saw what he had on his
hands, he radioed a call for Ranger protection. Our friend Captain
Nelson went out to see what the trouble was."
"Yes. I got the story of that from Nelson," Parros put in. "Much as he
hated to do it, he had to protect the Bonneys. And as soon as he'd taken
a hand, Hickock had to call off his gang. But he was smart. He grabbed
everything relating to the killing--the aircar and the twenty-mm
auto-rifle in particular--and he's keeping them under cover. Very few
people know about that, or about the fact that on physical evidence
alone, he has the killing pinned on the Bonneys so well that they'll
never get away with this story of being merely innocent witnesses."
"The rest, Mr. Silk, is up to us," Thrombley said. "I have Colonel
Hickock's assurance that he will give us every assistance, but we simply
must see to it that those creatures with the outlandish names are
I didn't have a chance to say anything to that: at that moment, one of
the servants ushered Captain Nelson toward us.
"Good evening, Captain," I greeted the Ranger. "Join us, seeing that
you're on foreign soil and consequently not on duty."
He sat down with us and poured a drink.
"I thought you might be interested," he said. "We gave that waiter a
going-over. We wanted to know who put him up to it. He tried to sell us
the line that he was a New Texan patriot, trying to kill a tyrant, but
we finally got the truth out of him. He was paid a thousand pesos to do
the job, by a character they call Snake-Eyes Sam Bonney. A cousin of the
three who killed Mr. Cumshaw."
"Nephew of Kettle-Belly Sam," Parros interjected. "You pick him up?"
Nelson shook his head disgustedly. "He's out in the high grass
somewhere. We're still looking for him. Oh, yes, and I just heard that
the trial of Switchblade, and Jack-High and Turkey-Buzzard is scheduled
for three days from now. You'll be notified in due form tomorrow, but I
thought you might like to know in advance."
"I certainly do, and thank you, Captain.... We were just talking about
you when you arrived," I mentioned. "About the arrest, or rescue, or
whatever you call it, of that trio."
"Yeah. One of the jobs I'm not particularly proud of. Pity Hickock's
boys didn't get hold of them before I got there. It'd of saved everybody
a lot of trouble."
"Just what impression did you get at the time, Captain?" I asked. "You
think Kettle-Belly knew in advance what they were going to do?"
"Sure he did. They had the whole jail fortified. Not like a jail usually
is, to keep people from getting out; but like a fort, to keep people
from getting in. There were no prisoners inside. I found out that they
had all been released that morning."
He stopped, seemed to be weighing his words, then continued, speaking
"Let me tell you first some things I can't testify to, couple of things
that I figure went wrong with their plans.
"One of Colonel Hickock's men was on the porch to greet Mr. Cumshaw and
he recognized the Bonneys. That was lucky; otherwise we might still be
lookin' and wonderin' who did the shootin', which might not have been
good for New Texas."
He cocked an eyebrow and I nodded. The Solar League, in similar cases,
had regarded such planetary governments as due for change without notice
and had promptly made the change.
"Number two," Captain Nelson continued, "that AA-shot which hit their
aircar. I don't think they intended to land at the jail--it was just
sort of a reserve hiding-hole. But because they'd been hit, they had to
land. And they'd been slowed down so much that they couldn't dispose of
the evidence before the Colonel's boys were tappin' on the door 'n'
askin', couldn't they come in."
"I gather the Colonel's task-force was becoming insistent," I prompted
The big Ranger grinned. "Now we're on things I can testify to.
"When I got there, what had been the cell-block was on fire, and they
were trying to defend the mayor's office and the warden's office. These
Bonneys gave me the line that they'd been witnesses to the killing of
Mr. Cumshaw by Colonel Hickock and that the Hickock outfit was trying to
rub them out to keep them from testifying. I just laughed and started to
walk out. Finally, they confessed that they'd shot Mr. Cumshaw, but they
claimed it was right of action against political malfeasance. When they
did that, I had to take them in."
"They confessed to you, before you arrested them?" I wanted to be sure
of that point.
"That's right. I'm going to testify to that, Monday, when the trial is
held. And that ain't all: we got their fingerprints off the car, off the
gun, off some shells still in the clip, and we have the gun identified
to the shells that killed Mr. Cumshaw. We got their confession fully
I asked him if he'd give Mr. Parros a complete statement of what he'd
seen and heard at Bonneyville. He was more than willing and I suggested
that they go into Parros' office, where they'd be undisturbed. The
Ranger and my Intelligence man got up and took a bottle of superbourbon
with them. As they were leaving, Nelson turned to Hoddy, who was still
"You'll have to look to your laurels, Hoddy," Nelson said. "Your
Ambassador seems to be making quite a reputation for himself as a
"Look," Hoddy said, and though he was facing Nelson, I felt he was
really talking to Stonehenge, "before I'd go up against this guy, I'd
shoot myself. That way, I could be sure I'd get a nice painless job."
After they were gone, I turned to Stonehenge and Thrombley. "This seems
to be a carefully prearranged killing."
"Then they knew _in advance_ that Mr. Cumshaw would be on Colonel
Hickock's front steps at about 1030. _How did they find that out?_"
"Why ... why, I'm sure I don't know," Thrombley said. It was most
obvious that the idea had never occurred to him before and a side glance
told me that the thought was new to Stonehenge also. "Colonel Hickock
called at 0900. Mr. Cumshaw left the Embassy in an aircar a few minutes
later. It took an hour and a half to fly out to the Hickock ranch...."
"I don't like the implications, Mr. Silk," Stonehenge said. "I can't
believe that was how it happened. In the first place, Colonel Hickock
isn't that sort of man: he doesn't use his hospitality to trap people to
their death. In the second place, he wouldn't have needed to use people
like these Bonneys. His own men would do anything for him. In the third
place, he is one of the leaders of the annexation movement here and this
was obviously an anti-annexation job. And in the fourth place--"
"Hold it!" I checked him. "Are you sure he's really on the annexation
He opened his mouth to answer me quickly, then closed it, waited a
moment, answered me slowly. "I can guess what you are thinking, Mr.
Silk. But, remember, when Colonel Hickock came here as our first
Ambassador, he came here as a man with a mission. He had studied the
problem and he believed in what he came for. He has never changed.
"Let me emphasize this, sir: we know he has never changed. For our own
protection, we've had to check on every real leader of the annexation
movement, screening them for crackpots who might do us more harm than
good. The Colonel is with us all the way.
"And now, in the fourth place, underlined by what I've just said, the
Colonel and Mr. Cumshaw were really friends."
"Now you're talking!" Hoddy burst in. "I've knowed A. J. ever since I
was a kid. Ever since he married old Colonel MacTodd's daughter. That
just ain't the way A. J. works!"
"On the other hand, Mr. Ambassador," Thrombley said, keeping his gaze
fixed on Hoddy's hands and apparently ready to both duck and shut up if
Hoddy moved a finger, "you will recall, I think, that Colonel Hickock
did do everything in his power to see that these Bonney brothers did not
reach court alive. And, let me add," he was getting bolder, tilting his
chin up a little, "it's a choice as simple as this: either Colonel
Hickock told them, or we have--and this is unbelievable--a traitor in
the Embassy itself."
That statement rocked even Hoddy. Even though he was probably no more
than one of Natalenko's little men, he still couldn't help knowing how
thoroughly we were screened, indoctrinated, and--let's face
it--mind-conditioned. A traitor among us was unthinkable because we just
couldn't think that way.
The silence, the sorrow, were palpable. Then I remembered, told them,
Hickock himself had been a Department man.
Stonehenge gripped his head between his hands and squeezed as if trying
to bring out an idea. "All right, Mr. Ambassador, where are we now?
Nobody who knew could have told the Bonney boys where Mr. Cumshaw would
be at 1030, yet the three men were there waiting for him. You take it
from there. I'm just a simple military man and I'm ready to go back to
the simple military life as soon as possible."
I turned to Gomez. "There could be an obvious explanation. Bring us the
official telescreen log. Let's see what calls were made. Maybe Mr.
Cumshaw himself said something to someone that gave his destination
"That won't be necessary," Thrombley told me. "None of the junior clerks
were on duty, and I took the only three calls that came in, myself.
First, there was the call from Colonel Hickock. Then, the call about the
wrist watch. And then, a couple of hours later, the call from the
Hickock ranch, about Mr. Cumshaw's death."
"What was the call about the wrist watch?" I asked.
"Oh, that was from the z'Srauff Embassy," Thrombley said. "For some
time, Mr. Cumshaw had been trying to get one of the very precise
watches which the z'Srauff manufacture on their home planet. The
z'Srauff Ambassador called, that day, to tell him that they had one for
him and wanted to know when it was to be delivered. I told them the
Ambassador was out, and they wanted to know where they could call him
I had never seen a man look more horror-stricken.
"Oh, my God! I'm the one who told them!"
What could I say? Not much, but I tried. "How could you know, Mr.
Thrombley? You did the natural, the normal, the proper thing, on a call
from one Ambassador to another."
I turned to the others, who, like me, preferred not to look at
Thrombley. "They must have had a spy outside who told them the
Ambassador had left the Embassy. Alone, right? And that was just what
they'd been waiting for.
"But what's this about the watch, though. There's more to this than a
simple favor from one Ambassador to another."
"My turn, Mr. Ambassador," Stonehenge interrupted. "Mr. Cumshaw had been
trying to get one of the things at my insistence. Naval Intelligence is
very much interested in them and we want a sample. The z'Srauff watches
are very peculiar--they're operated by radium decay, which, of course is
a universal constant. They're uniform to a tenth second and they're all
synchronized with the official time at the capital city of the principal
z'Srauff planet. The time used by the z'Srauff Navy."
Stonehenge deliberately paused, let that last phrase hang heavily in the
air for a moment, then he continued.
"They're supposed to be used in religious observances--timing hours of
prayer, I believe. They can, of course, have other uses.
"For example, I can imagine all those watches giving the wearer a light
electric shock, or ringing a little bell, all over New Texas, at exactly
the same moment. And then I can imagine all the z'Srauff running down
into nice deep holes in the ground."
He looked at his own watch. "And that reminds me: my gang of pirates are
at the spaceport by now, ready to blast off. I wonder if someone could
drive me there."
"I'll drive him, boss," Hoddy volunteered. "I ain't doin' nothin' else."
I was wondering how I could break that up, plausibly and without
betraying my suspicions, when Parros and Captain Nelson came out and
"I have a lot of stuff here," Parros said. "Stuff we never seemed to
have noticed. For instance--"
I interrupted. "Commander Stonehenge's going to the spaceport, now," I
said. "Suppose you ride with him, and brief him on what you learned, on
the way. Then, when he's aboard, come back and tell us."
Hoddy looked at me for a long ten seconds. His expression started by
being exasperated and ended by betraying grudging admiration.
The next morning, which was Saturday, I put Thrombley in charge of the
routine work of the Embassy, but first instructed him to answer all
inquiries about me with the statement, literally true, that I was too
immersed in work of clearing up matters left unfinished after the death
of the former Ambassador for any social activities. Then I called the
Hickock ranch in the west end of Sam Houston Continent, mentioning an
invitation the Colonel and his daughter had extended me, and told them I
would be out to see them before noon that same day. With Hoddy Ringo
driving the car, I arrived about 1000, and was welcomed by Gail and her
father, who had flown out the evening before, after the barbecue.
Hoddy, accompanied by a Ranger and one of Hickock's ranch hands, all
three disguised in shabby and grease-stained cast-offs borrowed at the
ranch, and driving a dilapidated aircar from the ranch junkyard, were
sent to visit the slum village of Bonneyville. They spent all day there,
posing as a trio of range tramps out of favor with the law.
I spent the day with Gail, flying over the range, visiting Hickock's
herd camps and slaughtering crews. It was a pleasant day and I managed
to make it constructive as well.
Because of their huge size--they ran to a live weight of around fifteen
tons--and their uncertain disposition, supercows are not really
domesticated. Each rancher owned the herds on his own land, chiefly by
virtue of constant watchfulness over them. There were always a couple of
helicopters hovering over each herd, with fast fighter planes waiting on
call to come in and drop fire-bombs or stun-bombs in front of them if
they showed a disposition to wander too far. Naturally, things of this
size could not be shipped live to the market; they were butchered on the
range, and the meat hauled out in big 'copter-trucks.
Slaughtering was dangerous and exciting work. It was done with medium
tanks mounting fifty-mm guns, usually working at the rear of the herd,
although a supercow herd could change directions almost in a second and
the killing-tanks would then find themselves in front of a stampede. I
saw several such incidents. Once Gail and I had to dive in with our car
and help turn such a stampede.
We got back to the ranch house shortly before dinner. Gail went at once
to change clothes; Colonel Hickock and I sat down together for a drink
in his library, a beautiful room. I especially admired the walls,
panelled in plastic-hardened supercow-leather.
"What do you think of our planet now, Mr. Silk?" Colonel Hickock asked.
"Well, Colonel, your final message to the State was part of the briefing
I received," I replied. "I must say that I agree with your opinions.
Especially with your opinion of local political practices. Politics is
nothing, here, if not exciting and exacting."
"You don't understand it though." That was about half-question and
half-statement. "Particularly our custom of using politicians as clay
"Well, it is rather unusual...."
"Yes." The dryness in his tone was a paragraph of comment on my
understatement. "And it's fundamental to our system of government.
"You were out all afternoon with Gail; you saw how we have to handle the
supercow herds. Well, it is upon the fact that every rancher must have
at his disposal a powerful force of aircraft and armor, easily
convertible to military uses, that our political freedom rests. You see,
our government is, in effect, an oligarchy of the big landowners and
ranchers, who, in combination, have enough military power to overturn
any Planetary government overnight. And, on the local level, it is a
"That's something that would have stood the hair of any Twentieth
Century 'Liberal' on end. And it gives us the freest government anywhere
in the galaxy.
"There were a number of occasions, much less frequent now than formerly,
when coalitions of big ranches combined their strength and marched on
the Planetary government to protect their rights from government
encroachment. This sort of thing could only be resorted to in defense of
some inherent right, and never to infringe on the rights of others.
Because, in the latter case, other armed coalitions would have arisen,
as they did once or twice during the first three decades of New Texan
history, to resist.
"So the right of armed intervention by the people when the government
invaded or threatened their rights became an acknowledged part of our
"And--this arises as a natural consequence--you can't give a man with
five hundred employees and a force of tanks and aircraft the right to
resist the government, then at the same time deny that right to a man
who has only his own pistol or machete."
"I notice the President and the other officials have themselves
surrounded by guards to protect them from individual attack," I said.
"Why doesn't the government, as such, protect itself with an army and
air force large enough to resist any possible coalition of the big
"_Because we won't let the government get that strong!_" the Colonel
said forcefully. "That's one of the basic premises. We have no standing
army, only the New Texas Rangers. And the legislature won't authorize
any standing army, or appropriate funds to support one. Any member of
the legislature who tried it would get what Austin Maverick got, a
couple of weeks ago, or what Sam Saltkin got, eight years ago, when he
proposed a law for the compulsory registration and licensing of
firearms. The opposition to that tax scheme of Maverick's wasn't because
of what it would cost the public in taxes, but from fear of what the
government could do with the money after they got it.
"Keep a government poor and weak and it's your servant; let it get rich
and powerful and it's your master. We don't want any masters here on
"But the President has a bodyguard," I noted.
"Casualty rate was too high," Hickock explained. "Remember, the
President's job is inherently impossible: he has to represent _all_ the
I thought that over, could see the illogical logic, but ... "How about
your rancher oligarchy?"
He laughed. "Son, if I started acting like a master around this ranch in
the morning, they'd find my body in an irrigation ditch before sunset.
"Sure, if you have a real army, you can keep the men under your
thumb--use one regiment or one division to put down mutiny in another.
But when you have only five hundred men, all of whom know everybody else
and all of them armed, you just act real considerate of them if you want
to keep on living."
"Then would you say that the opposition to annexation comes from the
people who are afraid that if New Texas enters the Solar League, there
will be League troops sent here and this ... this interesting system of
insuring government responsibility to the public would be brought to an
"Yes. If you can show the people of this planet that the League won't
interfere with local political practices, you'll have a 99.95 percent
majority in favor of annexation. We're too close to the z'Srauff
star-cluster, out here, not to see the benefits of joining the Solar
We left the Hickock ranch on Sunday afternoon and while Hoddy guided our
air-car back to New Austin, I had a little time to revise some of my
ideas about New Texas. That is, I had time to think during those few
moments when Hoddy wasn't taking advantage of our diplomatic immunity to
invent new air-ground traffic laws.
My thoughts alternated between the pleasure of remembering Gail's gay
company and the gloom of understanding the complete implications of the
Colonel's clarifying lectures. Against the background of his remarks, I
could find myself appreciating the Ghopal-Klüng-Natalenko reasoning: the
only way to cut the Gordian knot was to have another Solar League
And, whenever I could escape thinking about the fact that the next
Ambassador to be the clay pigeon was me, I found myself wondering if I
wanted the League to take over. Annexation, yes; New Texas customs would
be protected under a treaty of annexation. But the "justified conquest"
urged by Machiavelli, Jr.? No.
I was still struggling with the problem when we reached the Embassy
about 1700. Everyone was there, including Stonehenge, who had returned
two hours earlier with the good news that the fleet had moved into
position only sixty light-minutes off Capella IV. I had reached the
point in my thinking where I had decided it was useless to keep Hoddy
and Stonehenge apart except as an exercise in mental agility. Inasmuch
as my brain was already weight-lifting, swinging from a flying trapeze
to elusive flying rings while doing triple somersaults and at the same
time juggling seven Indian clubs, I skipped the whole matter.
But I'm fairly certain that it wasn't till then that Hoddy had a chance
to deliver his letter-of-credence to Stonehenge.
After dinner, we gathered in my office for our coffee and a final
conference before the opening of the trial the next morning.
Stonehenge spoke first, looking around the table at everyone except me.
"No matter what happens, we have the fleet within call. Sir Rodney's
been active picking up those z'Srauff meteor-mining boats. They no
longer have a tight screen around the system. We do. I don't think that
anyone, except us, knows that the fleet's where it is."
_No matter what happens_, I thought glumly, and the phrase explained why
he hadn't been able to look at me.
"Well, boss, I gave you my end of it, comin' in," Hoddy said. "Want me
to go over it again? All right. In Bonneyville, we found half a dozen
people who can swear that Kettle-Belly Sam Bonney was making
preparations to protect those three brothers an hour before Ambassador
Cumshaw was shot. The whole town's sorer than hell at Kettle-Belly for
antagonizing the Hickock outfit and getting the place shot up the way it
was. And we have witnesses that Kettle-Belly was in some kind of deal
with the z'Srauff, too. The Rangers gathered up eight of them, who can
swear to the preparations and to the fact that Kettle-Belly had z'Srauff
visitors on different occasions before the shooting."
"That's what we want," Stonehenge said. "Something that'll connect this
murder with the z'Srauff."
"Well, wait till you hear what I've got," Parros told him. "In the first
place, we traced the gun and the air-car. The Bonney brothers bought
them both from z'Srauff merchants, for ridiculously nominal prices. The
merchant who sold the aircar is normally in the dry-goods business, and
the one who sold the auto-rifle runs a toy shop. In their whole lives,
those three boys never had enough money among them to pay the list price
of the gun, let alone the car. That is, not until a week before the
"They got prosperous, all of a sudden?" I asked.
"Yes. Two weeks before the shooting, Kettle-Belly Sam's bank account got
a sudden transfusion: some anonymous benefactor deposited 250,000
pesos--about a hundred thousand dollars--to his credit. He drew out
75,000 of it and some of the money turned up again in the hands of
Switchblade and Jack-High and Turkey-Buzzard. Then, a week before you
landed here, he got another hundred thousand from the same anonymous
source and he drew out twenty thousand of that. We think that was the
money that went to pay for the attempted knife-job on Hutchinson. Two
days before the barbecue, the waiter deposited a thousand at the New
Austin Packers' and Shippers' Trust."
"Can you get that introduced as evidence at the trial?" I asked.
"Sure. Kettle-Belly banks at a town called Crooked Creek, about forty
miles from Bonneyville. We have witnesses from the bank.
"I also got the dope on the line the Bonney brothers are going to take
at the trial. They have a lawyer, Clement A. Sidney, a member of what
passes for the Socialist Party on this planet. The defense will take the
line of full denial of everything. The Bonneys are just three poor but
honest boys who are being framed by the corrupt tools of the Big
Hoddy made an impolite noise. "Whatta we got to worry about, then?" he
demanded. "They're a cinch for conviction."
"I agree with that," Stonehenge said. "If they tried to base their
defense on political conviction and opposition by the Solar League, they
might have a chance. This way, they haven't."
"All right, gentlemen," I said, "I take it that we're agreed that we
must all follow a single line of policy and not work at cross-purposes
to each other?"
They all agreed to that instantly, but with a questioning note in their
"Well, then, I trust you all realize that we cannot, under any
circumstances, allow those three brothers to be convicted in this
court," I added.
There was a moment of startled silence, while Hoddy and Stonehenge and
Parros and Thrombley were understanding what they had just heard. Then
Stonehenge cleared his throat and said:
"Mr. Ambassador! I'm sure that you have some excellent reasons for that
remarkable statement, but I must say--"
"It was a really colossal error on somebody's part," I said, "that this
case was allowed to get into the Court of Political Justice. It never
should have. And if we take a part in the prosecution, or allow those
men to be convicted, we will establish a precedent to support the
principle that a foreign Ambassador is, on this planet, defined as a
practicing local politician.
"I will invite you to digest that for a moment."
A moment was all they needed. Thrombley was horrified and dithered
incoherently. Stonehenge frowned and fidgeted with some papers in front
of him. I could see several thoughts gathering behind his eyes,
including, I was sure, a new view of his instructions from Klüng.
Even Hoddy got at least part of it. "Why, that means that anybody can
bump off any diplomat he doesn't like...." he began.
"That is only part of it, Mr. Ringo," Thrombley told him. "It also means
that a diplomat, instead of being regarded as the representative of his
own government, becomes, in effect, a functionary of the government of
New Texas. Why, all sorts of complications could arise...."
"It certainly would impair, shall we say, the principle of
extraterritoriality of Embassies," Stonehenge picked it up. "And it
would practically destroy the principle of diplomatic immunity."
"Migawd!" Hoddy looked around nervously, as though he could already hear
an army of New Texas Rangers, each with a warrant for Hoddy Ringo,
battering at the gates.
"We'll have to do something!" Gomez, the Secretary of the Embassy, said.
"I don't know what," Stonehenge said. "The obvious solution would be, of
course, to bring charges against those Bonney Boys on simple
first-degree murder, which would be tried in an ordinary criminal court.
But it's too late for that now. We wouldn't have time to prevent their
being arraigned in this Political Justice court, and once a defendant is
brought into court, on this planet, he cannot be brought into court
again for the same act. Not the same _crime_, the same _act_."
I had been thinking about this and I was ready. "Look, we must bring
those Bonney brothers to trial. It's the only effective way of
demonstrating to the public the simple fact that Ambassador Cumshaw was
murdered at the instigation of the z'Srauff. We dare not allow them to
be convicted in the Court of Political Justice, for the reasons already
stated. And to maintain the prestige of the Solar League, we dare not
allow them to go unpunished."
"We can have it one way," Parros said, "and maybe we can have it two
ways. But I'm damned if I can see how we can have it all three ways."
I wasn't surprised that he didn't see it; he hadn't had the same urgency
goading him which had forced me to find the answer. It wasn't an answer
that I liked, but I was in the position where I had no choice.
"Well, here's what we have to do, gentlemen," I began, and from the
respectful way they regarded me, from the attention they were giving my
words, I got a sudden thrill of pride. For the first time since my
scrambled arrival, I was really _Ambassador_ Stephen Silk.
A couple of New Texas Ranger tanks met the Embassy car four blocks from
the Statehouse and convoyed us into the central plaza, where the
barbecue had been held on the Friday afternoon that I had arrived on New
Texas. There was almost as dense a crowd as the last time I had seen the
place; but they were quieter, to the extent that there were no bands,
and no shooting, no cowbells or whistles. The barbecue pits were going
again, however, and hawkers were pushing or propelling their little
wagons about, vending sandwiches. I saw a half a dozen big twenty-foot
teleview screens, apparently wired from the courtroom.
As soon as the Embassy car and its escorting tanks reached the plaza, an
ovation broke out. I was cheered, with the high-pitched _yipeee!_ of New
Texans and adjured and implored not to let them so-and-sos get away with
There was a veritable army of Rangers on guard at the doors of the
courtroom. The only spectators being admitted to the courtroom seemed to
be prominent citizens with enough pull to secure passes.
Inside, some of the spectators' benches had been removed to clear the
front of the room. In the cleared space, there was one bulky shape
under a cloth cover that seemed to be the air-car and another
cloth-covered shape that looked like a fifty-mm dual-purpose gun.
Smaller exhibits, including a twenty-mm auto-rifle, were piled on the
friends-of-the-court table. The prosecution table was already
occupied--Colonel Hickock, who waved a greeting to me, three or four men
who looked like well-to-do ranchers, and a delegation of lawyers.
"Samuel Goodham," Parros, beside me, whispered, indicating a big,
heavy-set man with white hair, dressed in a dark suit of the cut that
had been fashionable on Terra seventy-five years ago. "Best criminal
lawyer on the planet. Hickock must have hired him."
There was quite a swarm at the center table, too. Some of them were
ranchers, a couple in aggressively shabby workclothes, and there were
several members of the Diplomatic Corps. I shook hands with them and
gathered that they, like myself, were worried about the precedent that
might be established by this trial. While I was introducing Hoddy Ringo
as my attaché extraordinary, which was no less than the truth, the
defense party came in.
There were only three lawyers--a little, rodent-faced fellow, whom
Parros pointed out as Clement Sidney, and two assistants. And, guarded
by a Ranger and a couple of court-bailiffs, the three defendants,
Switchblade Joe, Jack-High Abe and Turkey-Buzzard Tom Bonney. There was
probably a year or so age different from one to another, but they
certainly had a common parentage. They all had pale eyes and narrow,
loose-lipped faces. Subnormal and probably psychopathic, I thought.
Jack-High Abe had his left arm in a sling and his left shoulder in a
plaster cast. The buzz of conversation among the spectators altered its
tone subtly and took on a note of hostility as they entered and seated
The balcony seemed to be crowded with press representatives. Several
telecast cameras and sound pickups had been rigged to cover the front of
the room from various angles, a feature that had been missing from the
trial I had seen with Gail on Friday.
Then the judges entered from a door behind the bench, which must have
opened from a passageway under the plaza, and the court was called to
The President Judge was the same Nelson who had presided at the Whately
trial and the first thing on the agenda seemed to be the selection of a
new board of associate judges. Parros explained in a whisper that the
board which had served on the previous trial would sit until that could
A slip of paper was drawn from a box and a name was called. A man
sitting on one of the front rows of spectators' seats got up and came
forward. One of Sidney's assistants rummaged through a card file he had
in front of him and handed a card to the chief of the defense. At once,
Sidney was on his feet.
"Challenged, for cause!" he called out. "This man is known to have
declared, in conversation at the bar of the Silver Peso Saloon, here in
New Austin, that these three boys, my clients, ought all to be hanged
higher than Haman."
"Yes, I said that!" the venireman declared. "I'll repeat it right here:
all three of these murdering skunks ought to be hanged higher than--"
"Your Honor!" Sidney almost screamed. "If, after hearing this man's
brazen declaration of bigoted class hatred against my clients, he is
allowed to sit on that bench--"
Judge Nelson pounded with his gavel. "You don't have to instruct me in
my judicial duties, Counselor," he said. "The venireman has obviously
disqualified himself by giving evidence of prejudice. Next name."
The next man was challenged: he was a retired packing-house operator in
New Austin, and had once expressed the opinion that Bonneyville and
everybody in it ought to be H-bombed off the face of New Texas.
This Sidney seemed to have gotten the name of everybody likely to be
called for court duty and had something on each one of them, because he
went on like that all morning.
"You know what I think," Stonehenge whispered to me, leaning over behind
Parros. "I think he's just stalling to keep the court in session until
the z'Srauff fleet gets here. I wish we could get hold of one of those
"I can get you one, before evening," Hoddy offered, "if you don't care
what happens to the mutt that's wearin' it."
"Better not," I decided. "Might tip them off to what we suspect. And we
don't really need one: Sir Rodney will have patrols out far enough to
get warning in time."
We took an hour, at noon, for lunch, and then it began again. By 1647,
fifteen minutes before court should be adjourned, Judge Nelson ordered
the bailiff to turn the clock back to 1300. The clock was turned back
again when it reached 1645. By this time, Clement Sidney was probably
the most unpopular man on New Texas.
Finally, Colonel Andrew J. Hickock rose to his feet.
"Your Honor: the present court is not obliged to retire from the bench
until another court has been chosen as they are now sitting as a court
in being. I propose that the trial begin, with the present court on the
Sidney began yelling protests. Hoddy Ringo pulled his neckerchief around
under his left ear and held the ends above his head. Nanadabadian, the
Ambassador from Beta Cephus IV, drew his biggest knife and began trying
the edge on a sheet of paper.
"Well, Your Honor, I certainly do not wish to act in an obstructionist
manner. The defense agrees to accept the present court," Sidney decided.
"Prosecution agrees to accept the present court," Goodham parroted.
"The present court will continue on the bench, to try the case of the
Friends of Silas Cumshaw, deceased, versus Switchblade Joe Bonney,
Jack-High Abe Bonney, Turkey-Buzzard Tom Bonney, et als." Judge Nelson
rapped with his gavel. "Court is herewith adjourned until 0900
The trial got started the next morning with a minimum amount of
objections from Sidney. The charges and specifications were duly read,
the three defendants pleaded not guilty, and then Goodham advanced with
a paper in his hand to address the court. Sidney scampered up to take
his position beside him.
"Your Honor, the prosecution wishes, subject to agreement of the
defense, to enter the following stipulations, to wit: First, that the
late Silas Cumshaw was a practicing politician within the meaning of the
law. Second, that he is now dead, and came to his death in the manner
attested to by the coroner of Sam Houston Continent. Third, that he came
to his death at the hands of the defendants here present."
In all my planning, I'd forgotten that. I couldn't let those
stipulations stand without protest, and at the same time, if I protested
the characterization of Cumshaw as a practicing politician, the trial
could easily end right there. So I prayed for a miracle, and Clement
Sidney promptly obliged me.
"Defense won't stipulate anything!" he barked. "My clients, here, are
victims of a monstrous conspiracy, a conspiracy to conceal the true
facts of the death of Silas Cumshaw. They ought never to have been
arrested or brought here, and if the prosecution wants to establish
anything, they can do it by testimony, in the regular and lawful way.
This practice of free-wheeling stipulation is only one of the many
devices by which the courts of this planet are being perverted to serve
the corrupt and unjust ends of a gang of reactionary landowners!"
Judge Nelson's gavel hit the bench with a crack like a rifle shot.
"Mr. Sidney! In justice to your clients, I would hate to force them to
change lawyers in the middle of their trial, but if I hear another
remark like that about the courts of New Texas, that's exactly what will
happen, because you'll be in jail for contempt! Is that clear, Mr.
I settled back with a deep sigh of relief which got me, I noticed,
curious stares from my fellow Ambassadors. I disregarded the questions
in their glances; I had what I wanted.
They began calling up the witnesses.
First, the doctor who had certified Ambassador Cumshaw's death. He gave
a concise description of the wounds which had killed my predecessor.
Sidney was trying to make something out of the fact that he was
Hickock's family physician, and consuming more time, when I got up.
"Your Honor, I am present here as _amicus curiae_, because of the
obvious interest which the Government of the Solar League has in this
"Objection!" Sidney yelled.
"Please state it," Nelson invited.
"This is a court of the people of the planet of New Texas. This foreign
emissary of the Solar League, sent here to conspire with New Texan
traitors to the end that New Texans shall be reduced to a supine and
ravished satrapy of the all-devouring empire of the Galaxy--"
Judge Nelson rapped sharply.
"Friends of the court are defined as persons having a proper interest in
the case. As this case arises from the death of the former Ambassador of
the Solar League, I cannot see how the present Ambassador and his staff
can be excluded. Overruled." He nodded to me. "Continue, Mr.
"As I understand, I have the same rights of cross-examination of
witnesses as counsel for the prosecution and defense; is that correct,
Your Honor?" It was, so I turned to the witness. "I suppose, Doctor,
that you have had quite a bit of experience, in your practice, with
He chuckled. "Mr. Ambassador, it is gunshot-wound cases which keep the
practice of medicine and surgery alive on this planet. Yes, I definitely
"Now, you say that the deceased was hit by six different projectiles:
right shoulder almost completely severed, right lung and right ribs
blown out of the chest, spleen and kidneys so intermingled as to be
practically one, and left leg severed by complete shattering of the left
pelvis and hip-joint?"
I picked up the 20-mm auto-rifle--it weighed a good sixty pounds--from
the table, and asked him if this weapon could have inflicted such
wounds. He agreed that it both could and had.
"This the usual type of weapon used in your New Texas political
liquidations?" I asked.
"Certainly not. The usual weapons are pistols; sometimes a hunting-rifle
or a shotgun."
I asked the same question when I cross-examined the ballistics witness.
"Is this the usual type of weapon used in your New Texas political
"No, not at all. That's a very expensive weapon, Mr. Ambassador. Wasn't
even manufactured on this planet; made by the z'Srauff star-cluster. A
weapon like that sells for five, six hundred pesos. It's used for
shooting really big game--supermastodon, and things like that. And, of
course, for combat."
"It seems," I remarked, "that the defense is overlooking an obvious
point there. I doubt if these three defendants ever, in all their lives,
had among them the price of such a weapon."
That, of course, brought Sidney to his feet, sputtering objections to
this attempt to disparage the honest poverty of his clients, which only
helped to call attention to the point.
Then the prosecution called in a witness named David Crockett
Longfellow. I'd met him at the Hickock ranch; he was Hickock's butler.
He limped from an old injury which had retired him from work on the
range. He was sworn in and testified to his name and occupation.
"Do you know these three defendants?" Goodham asked him.
"Yeah. I even marked one of them for future identification," Longfellow
Sidney was up at once, shouting objections. After he was quieted down,
Goodham remarked that he'd come to that point later, and began a line of
questioning to establish that Longfellow had been on the Hickock ranch
on the day when Silas Cumshaw was killed.
"Now," Goodham said, "will you relate to the court the matters of
interest which came to your personal observation on that day."
Longfellow began his story. "At about 0900, I was dustin' up and
straightenin' things in the library while the Colonel was at his desk.
All of a sudden, he said to me, 'Davy, suppose you call the Solar
Embassy and see if Mr. Cumshaw is doin' anything today; if he isn't, ask
him if he wants to come out.' I was workin' right beside the
telescreen. So I called the Solar League Embassy. Mr. Thrombley took
the call, and I asked him was Mr. Cumshaw around. By this time, the
Colonel got through with what he was doin' at the desk and came over
to the screen. I went back to my work, but I heard the Colonel askin'
Mr. Cumshaw could he come out for the day, an' Mr. Cumshaw sayin',
yes, he could; he'd be out by about 1030.
"Well, 'long about 1030, his air-car came in and landed on the drive.
Little single-seat job that he drove himself. He landed it about a
hundred feet from the outside veranda, like he usually did, and got out.
"Then, this other car came droppin' in from outa nowhere. I didn't pay
it much attention; thought it might be one of the other Ambassadors that
Mr. Cumshaw'd brung along. But Mr. Cumshaw turned around and looked at
it, and then he started to run for the veranda. I was standin' in the
doorway when I seen him startin' to run. I jumped out on the porch,
quick-like, and pulled my gun, and then this auto-rifle begun firin'
outa the other car. There was only eight or ten shots fired from this
car, but most of them hit Mr. Cumshaw."
Goodham waited a few moments. Longfellow's voice had choked and there
was a twitching about his face, as though he were trying to suppress
"Now, Mr. Longfellow," Goodham said, "did you recognize the people who
were in the car from which the shots came?"
"Yeah. Like I said, I cut a mark on one of them. That one there:
Jack-High Abe Bonney. He was handlin' the gun, and from where I was, he
had his left side to me. I was tryin' for his head, but I always
overshoot, so I have the habit of holdin' low. This time I held too
low." He looked at Jack-High in coldly poisonous hatred. "I'll be sorry
about that as long as I live."
"And who else was in the car?"
"The other two curs outa the same litter: Switchblade an'
Turkey-Buzzard, over there."
Further questioning revealed that Longfellow had had no direct knowledge
of the pursuit, or the siege of the jail in Bonneyville. Colonel Hickock
had taken personal command of that, and had left Longfellow behind to
call the Solar League Embassy and the Rangers. He had made no attempt to
move the body, but had left it lying in the driveway until the doctor
and the Rangers arrived.
Goodham went to the middle table and picked up a heavy automatic pistol.
"I call the court's attention to this pistol. It is an eleven-mm
automatic, manufactured by the Colt Firearms Company of New Texas, a
licensed subsidiary of the Colt Firearms Company of Terra." He handed it
to Longfellow. "Do you know this pistol?" he asked.
Longfellow was almost insulted by the question. Of course he knew his
own pistol. He recited the serial number, and pointed to different scars
and scratches on the weapon, telling how they had been acquired.
"The court accepts that Mr. Longfellow knows his own weapon," Nelson
said. "I assume that this is the weapon with which you claim to have
shot Jack-High Abe Bonney?"
It was, although Longfellow resented the qualification.
"That's all. Your witness, Mr. Sidney," Goodham said.
Sidney began an immediate attack.
Questioning Longfellow's eyesight, intelligence, honesty and integrity,
he tried to show personal enmity toward the Bonneys. He implied that
Longfellow had been conspiring with Cumshaw to bring about the conquest
of New Texas by the Solar League. The verbal exchange became so heated
that both witness and attorney had to be admonished repeatedly from the
bench. But at no point did Sidney shake Longfellow from his one
fundamental statement, that the Bonney brothers had shot Silas Cumshaw
and that he had shot Jack-High Abe Bonney in the shoulder.
When he was finished, I got up and took over.
"Mr. Longfellow, you say that Mr. Thrombley answered the screen at the
Solar League Embassy," I began. "You know Mr. Thrombley?"
"Sure, Mr. Silk. He's been out at the ranch with Mr. Cumshaw a lotta
"Well, beside yourself and Colonel Hickock and Mr. Cumshaw and,
possibly, Mr. Thrombley, who else knew that Mr. Cumshaw would be at the
ranch at 1030 on that morning?"
Nobody. But the aircar had obviously been waiting for Mr. Cumshaw; the
Bonneys must have had advance knowledge. My questions made that point
clear despite the obvious--and reluctantly court-sustained--objections
from Mr. Sidney.
"That will be all, Mr. Longfellow; thank you. Any questions from anybody
There being none, Longfellow stepped down. It was then a few minutes
before noon, so Judge Nelson recessed court for an hour and a half.
In the afternoon, the surgeon who had treated Jack-High Abe Bonney's
wounded shoulder testified, identifying the bullet which had been
extracted from Bonney's shoulder. A ballistics man from Ranger crime-lab
followed him to the stand and testified that it had been fired from
Longfellow's Colt. Then Ranger Captain Nelson took the stand. His
testimony was about what he had given me at the Embassy, with the
exception that the Bonneys' admission that they had shot Ambassador
Cumshaw was ruled out as having been made under duress.
However, Captain Nelson's testimony didn't need the confessions.
The cover was stripped off the air-car, and a couple of men with a
power-dolly dragged it out in front of the bench. The Ranger Captain
identified it as the car which he had found at the Bonneyville jail. He
went over it with an ultra-violet flashlight and showed where he had
written his name and the date on it with fluorescent ink. The effects of
AA-fire were plainly evident on it.
Then the other shrouded object was unveiled and identified as the gun
which had disabled the air-car. Colonel Hickock identified the gun as
the one with which he had fired on the air-car. Finally, the ballistics
expert was brought back to the stand again, to link the two by means of
fragments found in the car.
Then Goodham brought Kettle-Belly Sam Bonney to the stand.
The Mayor of Bonneyville was a man of fifty or so, short, partially
bald, dressed in faded blue Levis, a frayed white shirt, and a
grease-spotted vest. There was absolutely no mystery about how he had
acquired his nickname. He disgorged a cud of tobacco into a spittoon,
took the oath with unctuous solemnity, then reloaded himself with
another chew and told his version of the attack on the jail.
At about 1045 on the day in question, he testified, he had been in his
office, hard at work in the public service, when an air-car, partially
disabled by gunfire, had landed in the street outside and the three
defendants had rushed in, claiming sanctuary. From then on, the story
flowed along smoothly, following the lines predicted by Captain Nelson
and Parros. Of course he had given the fugitives shelter; they had
claimed to have been near to a political assassination and were in fear
of their lives.
Under Sidney's cross-examination, and coaching, he poured out the story
of Bonneyville's wrongs at the hands of the reactionary landowners, and
the atrocious behavior of the Hickock goon-gang. Finally, after
extracting the last drop of class-hatred venom out of him, Sidney turned
him over to me.
"How many men were inside the jail when the three defendants came
claiming sanctuary?" I asked.
He couldn't rightly say, maybe four or five.
"Closer twenty-five, according to the Rangers. How many of them were
prisoners in the jail?"
"Well, none. The prisoners was all turned out that mornin'. They was
just common drunks, disorderly conduct cases, that kinda thing. We
turned them out so's we could make some repairs."
"You turned them out because you expected to have to defend the jail;
because you knew in advance that these three would be along claiming
sanctuary, and that Colonel Hickock's ranch hands would be right on
their heels, didn't you?" I demanded.
It took a good five minutes before Sidney stopped shouting long enough
for Judge Nelson to sustain the objection.
"You knew these young men all their lives, I take it. What did you know
about their financial circumstances, for instance?"
"Well, they've been ground down an' kept poor by the big ranchers an'
"Then weren't you surprised to see them driving such an expensive
"I don't know as it's such an expensive--" he shut his mouth suddenly.
"You know where they got the money to buy that car?" I pressed.
Kettle-Belly Sam didn't answer.
"From the man who paid them to murder Ambassador Silas Cumshaw?" I kept
pressing. "Do you know how much they were paid for that job? Do you know
where the money came from? Do you know who the go-between was, and how
much he got, and how much he kept for himself? Was it the same source
that paid for the recent attempt on President Hutchinson's life?"
"I refuse to answer!" the witness declared, trying to shove his chest
out about half as far as his midriff. "On the grounds that it might
incriminate or degrade me!"
"You can't degrade a Bonney!" a voice from the balcony put in.
"So then," I replied to the voice, "what he means is, incriminate." I
turned to the witness. "That will be all. Excused."
As Bonney left the stand and was led out the side door, Goodham
addressed the bench.
"Now, Your Honor," he said, "I believe that the prosecution has
succeeded in definitely establishing that these three defendants
actually did fire the shot which, on April 22, 2193, deprived Silas
Cumshaw of his life. We will now undertake to prove...."
Followed a long succession of witnesses, each testifying to some public
or private act of philanthropy, some noble trait of character. It was
the sort of thing which the defense lawyer in the Whately case had been
so willing to stipulate. Sidney, of course, tried to make it all out to
be part of a sinister conspiracy to establish a Solar League fifth
column on New Texas. Finally, the prosecution rested its case.
I entertained Gail and her father at the Embassy, that evening. The
street outside was crowded with New Texans, all of them on our side,
shouting slogans like, "Death to the Bonneys!" and "Vengeance for
Cumshaw!" and "Annexation Now!" Some of it was entirely spontaneous,
too. The Hickocks, father and daughter, were given a tremendous ovation,
when they finally left, and followed to their hotel by cheering crowds.
I saw one big banner, lettered: 'DON'T LET NEW TEXAS GO TO THE DOGS.'
and bearing a crude picture of a z'Srauff. I seemed to recall having
seen a couple of our Marines making that banner the evening before in
the Embassy patio, but....
The next morning, the third of the trial, opened with the defense
witnesses, character-witnesses for the three killers and witnesses to
the political iniquities of Silas Cumshaw.
Neither Goodham nor I bothered to cross-examine the former. I couldn't
see how any lawyer as shrewd as Sidney had shown himself to be would
even dream of getting such an array of thugs, cutthroats, sluts and
slatterns into court as character witnesses for anybody.
The latter, on the other hand, we went after unmercifully, revealing,
under their enmity for Cumshaw, a small, hard core of bigoted xenophobia
and selfish fear. Goodham did a beautiful job on that; he seemed able,
at a glance, to divine exactly what each witness's motivation was, and
able to make him or her betray that motivation in its least admirable
terms. Finally the defense rested, about a quarter-hour before noon.
I rose and addressed the court:
"Your Honor, while both the prosecution and the defense have done an
admirable job in bringing out the essential facts of how my predecessor
met his death, there are many features about this case which are far
from clear to me. They will be even less clear to my government, which
is composed of men who have never set foot on this planet. For this
reason, I wish to call, or recall, certain witnesses to clarify these
Sidney, who had begun shouting objections as soon as I had gotten to my
feet, finally managed to get himself recognized by the court.
"This Solar League Ambassador, Your Honor, is simply trying to use the
courts of the Planet of New Texas as a sounding-board for his
imperialistic government's propaganda...."
"You may reassure yourself, Mr. Sidney," Judge Nelson said. "This court
will not allow itself to be improperly used, or improperly swayed, by
the Ambassador of the Solar League. This court is interested only in
determining the facts regarding the case before it. You may call your
witnesses, Mr. Ambassador." He glanced at his watch. "Court will now
recess for an hour and a half; can you have them here by 1330?"
I assured him I could after glancing across the room at Ranger Captain
Nelson and catching his nod.
My first witness, that afternoon was Thrombley. After the formalities of
getting his name and connection with the Solar League Embassy on the
record, I asked him, "Mr. Thrombley, did you, on the morning of April
22, receive a call from the Hickock ranch for Mr. Cumshaw?"
"Yes, indeed, Mr. Ambassador. The call was from Mr. Longfellow, Colonel
Hickock's butler. He asked if Mr. Cumshaw were available. It happened
that Mr. Cumshaw was in the same room with me, and he came directly to
the screen. Then Colonel Hickock appeared in the screen, and inquired
if Mr. Cumshaw could come out to the ranch for the day; he said
something about superdove shooting."
"You heard Mr. Cumshaw tell Colonel Hickock that he would be out at the
ranch at about 1030?" Thrombley said he had. "And, to your knowledge,
did anybody else at the Embassy hear that?"
"Oh, no, sir; we were in the Ambassador's private office, and the screen
there is tap-proof."
"And what other calls did you receive, prior to Mr. Cumshaw's death?"
"About fifteen minutes after Mr. Cumshaw had left, the z'Srauff
Ambassador called, about a personal matter. As he was most anxious to
contact Mr. Cumshaw, I told him where he had gone."
"Then, to your knowledge, outside of yourself, Colonel Hickock, and his
butler, the z'Srauff Ambassador was the only person who could have known
that Mr. Cumshaw's car would be landing on Colonel Hickock's drive at or
about 1030. Is that correct?"
"Yes, plus anybody whom the z'Srauff Ambassador might have told."
"Exactly!" I pounced. Then I turned and gave the three Bonney brothers a
sweeping glance. "Plus anybody the z'Srauff Ambassador might have
told.... That's all. Your witness, Mr. Sidney."
Sidney got up, started toward the witness stand, and then thought better
"No questions," he said.
The next witness was a Mr. James Finnegan; he was identified as cashier
of the Crooked Creek National Bank. I asked him if Kettle-Belly Sam
Bonney did business at his bank; he said yes.
"Anything unusual about Mayor Bonney's account?" I asked.
"Well, it's been unusually active lately. Ordinarily, he carries around
two-three thousand pesos, but about the first of April, that took a big
jump. Quite a big jump; two hundred and fifty thousand pesos, all in a
"When did Kettle-Belly Sam deposit this large sum?" I asked.
"He didn't. The money came to us in a cashier's check on the Ranchers'
Trust Company of New Austin with an anonymous letter asking that it be
deposited to Mayor Bonney's account. The letter was typed on a sheet of
yellow paper in Basic English."
"Do you have that letter now?" I asked.
"No, I don't. After we'd recorded the new balance, Kettle-Belly came
storming in, raising hell because we'd recorded it. He told me that if
we ever got another deposit like that, we were to turn it over to him in
cash. Then he wanted to see the letter, and when I gave it to him, he
took it over to a telescreen booth, and drew the curtains. I got a
little busy with some other matters, and the next time I looked,
Kettle-Belly was gone and some girl was using the booth."
"That's very interesting, Mr. Finnegan. Was that the last of your
unusual business with Mayor Bonney?"
"Oh, no. Then, about two weeks before Mr. Cumshaw was killed,
Kettle-Belly came in and wanted 50,000 pesos, in a big hurry, in small
bills. I gave it to him, and he grabbed at the money like a starved dog
at a bone, and upset a bottle of red perma-ink, the sort we use to
refill our bank seals. Three of the bills got splashed. I offered to
exchange them, but he said, 'Hell with it; I'm in a hurry,' and went
out. The next day, Switchblade Joe Bonney came in to make payment on a
note we were holding on him. He used those three bills in the payment.
"Then, about a week ago, there was another cashier's check came in for
Kettle-Belly. This time, there was no letter; just one of our regular
deposit-slips. No name of depositor. I held the check, and gave it to
Kettle-Belly. I remember, when it came in, I said to one of the clerks,
'Well, I wonder who's going to get bumped off this time.' And sure
Sidney's yell of, "Objection!" was all his previous objections gathered
"You say the letter accompanying the first deposit, the one in Basic
English, was apparently taken away by Kettle-Belly Sam Bonney. If you
saw another letter of the same sort, would you be able to say whether or
not it might be like the one you mentioned?"
Sidney vociferating more objections; I was trying to get expert
testimony without previous qualification....
"Not at all, Mr. Sidney," Judge Nelson ruled. "Mr. Silk has merely asked
if Mr. Finnegan could say whether one document bore any resemblance to
I asked permission to have another witness sworn in while Finnegan was
still on the stand, and called in a Mr. Boone, the cashier of the
Packers' and Brokers' Trust Company of New Austin. He had with him a
letter, typed on yellow paper, which he said had accompanied an
anonymous deposit of two hundred thousand pesos. Mr. Finnegan said that
it was exactly like the one he had received, in typing, grammar and
wording, all but the name of the person to whose account the money was
to be deposited.
"And whose account received this anonymous benefaction, Mr. Boone?" I
"The account," Boone replied, "of Mr. Clement Sidney."
I was surprised that Judge Nelson didn't break the handle of his gavel,
after that. Finally, after a couple of threats to clear the court, order
was restored. Mr. Sidney had no questions to ask this time, either.
The bailiff looked at the next slip of paper I gave him, frowned over
it, and finally asked the court for assistance.
"I can't pronounce this-here thing, at all," he complained.
One of the judges finally got out a mouthful of growls and yaps, and
gave it to the clerk of the court to copy into the record. The next
witness was a z'Srauff, and in the New Texan garb he was wearing, he was
something to open my eyes, even after years on the Hooligan Diplomats.
After he took the stand, the clerk of the court looked at him blankly
for a moment. Then he turned to Judge Nelson.
"Your Honor, how am I gonna go about swearing him in?" he asked. "What
does a z'Srauff swear by, that's binding?"
The President Judge frowned for a moment. "Does anybody here know Basic
well enough to translate the oath?" he asked.
"I think I can," I offered. "I spent a great many years in our Consular
Service, before I was sent here. We use Basic with a great many alien
"Administer the oath, then," Nelson told me.
"Put up right hand," I told the z'Srauff. "Do you truly say, in front of
Great One who made all worlds, who has knowledge of what is in the
hearts of all persons, that what you will say here will be true, all
true, and not anything that is not true, and will you so say again at
time when all worlds end? Do you so truly say?"
"Yes. I so truly say."
"Say your name."
"Ppmegll Kkuvtmmecc Cicici."
"What is your business?"
"I put things made of cloth into this world, and I take meat out of this
"Where do you have your house?"
"Here in New Austin, over my house of business, on Coronado Street."
"What people do you see in this place that you have made business with?"
Ppmegll Kkuvtmmecc Cicici pointed a three-fingered hand at the Bonney
"What business did you make with them?"
"I gave them for money a machine which goes on the ground and goes in
the air very fast, to take persons and things about."
"Is that the thing you gave them for money?" I asked, pointing at the
"Yes, but it was new then. It has been made broken by things from guns
"What money did they give you for the machine?"
"One hundred pesos."
That started another uproar. There wasn't a soul in that courtroom who
didn't know that five thousand pesos would have been a give-away bargain
price for that car.
"Mr. Ambassador," one of the associate judges interrupted. "I used to be
in the used-car business. Am I expected to believe that this ... this
being ... sold that air-car for a hundred pesos?"
"Here's a notarized copy of the bill of sale, from the office of the
Vehicles Registration Bureau," I said. "I introduce it as evidence."
There was a disturbance at the back of the room, and then the z'Srauff
Ambassador, Gglafrr Ddespttann Vuvuvu, came stalking down the aisle,
followed by a couple of Rangers and two of his attachés. He came forward
and addressed the court.
"May you be happy, sir, but I am in here so quickly not because I have
desire to make noise, but because it is only short time since it got in
my knowledge that one of my persons is in this place. I am here to be of
help to him that he not get in trouble, and to be of help to you. The
name for what I am to do in this place is not part of my knowledge.
Please say it for me."
"You are a friend of the court," Judge Nelson told him. "An _amicus
"You make me happy. Please go on; I have no desire to put stop to what
you do in this place."
"From what person did you get this machine that you gave to these
persons for one hundred pesos?" I asked.
Gglafrr immediately began barking and snarling and yelping at my
witness. The drygoods importer looked startled, and Judge Nelson banged
with his gavel.
"That's enough of that! There'll be nothing spoken in this court but
English, except through an interpreter!"
"Yow! I am sad that what I did was not right," the z'Srauff Ambassador
replied contritely. "But my person here has not as part of his knowledge
that you will make him say what may put him in trouble."
Nelson nodded in agreement.
"You are right: this person who is here has no need to make answer to
any question if it may put him in trouble or make him seem less than he
"I will not make answer," the witness said.
"No further questions."
I turned to Goodham, and then to Sidney; they had no questions, either.
I handed another slip of paper to the bailiff, and another z'Srauff,
named Bbrarkk Jjoknyyegg Kekeke took the stand.
He put into this world things for small persons to make amusement with;
he took out of this world meat and leather. He had his house of business
in New Austin, and he pointed out the three Bonneys as persons in this
place that he saw that he had seen before.
"And what business did you make with them?" I asked.
"I gave them for money a gun which sends out things of
twenty-millimeters very fast, to make death or hurt come to men and
animals and does destruction to machines and things."
"Is this the gun?" I showed it to him.
"It could be. The gun was made in my world; many guns like it are made
there. I am certain that this is the very gun."
I had a notarized copy of a customs house bill in which the gun was
described and specified by serial number. I introduced it as evidence.
"How much money did these three persons give you for this gun?" I asked.
"The customs appraisal on this gun is six hundred pesos," I mentioned.
Immediately, Ambassador Vuvuvu was on his feet. "My person here has not
as part of his knowledge that he may put himself in trouble by what he
says to answer these questions."
That put a stop to that. Bbrarkk Jjoknyyegg Kekeke immediately took
refuge in refusal to answer on grounds of self-incrimination.
"That is all, Your Honor," I said, "And now," I continued, when the
witness had left the stand, "I have something further to present to the
court, speaking both as _amicus curiae_ and as Ambassador of the Solar
League. This court cannot convict the three men who are here on trial.
These men should have never been brought to trial in this court: it has
no jurisdiction over this case. This was a simple case of first-degree
murder, by hired assassins, committed against the Ambassador of one
government at the instigation of another, not an act of political
protest within the meaning of New Texan law."
There was a brief silence; both the court and the spectators were
stunned, and most stunned of all were the three Bonney brothers, who had
been watching, fear-sick, while I had been putting a rope around their
necks. The uproar from the rear of the courtroom gave Judge Nelson a
needed minute or so to collect his thoughts. After he had gotten order
restored, he turned to me, grim-faced.
"Ambassador Silk, will you please elaborate on the extraordinary
statement you have just made," he invited, as though every word had
sharp corners that were sticking in his throat.
"Gladly, Your Honor." My words, too, were gouging and scraping my throat
as they came out; I could feel my knees getting absurdly weak, and my
mouth tasted as though I had an old copper penny in it.
"As I understand it, the laws of New Texas do not extend their ordinary
protection to persons engaged in the practice of politics. An act of
personal injury against a politician is considered criminal only to the
extent that the politician injured has not, by his public acts, deserved
the degree of severity with which he has been injured, and the Court of
Political Justice is established for the purpose of determining whether
or not there has been such an excess of severity in the treatment meted
out by the accused to the injured or deceased politician. This gives
rise, of course, to some interesting practices; for instance, what is at
law a trial of the accused is, in substance, a trial of his victim. But
in any case tried in this court, the accused must be a person who has
injured or killed a man who is definable as a practicing politician
under the government of New Texas.
"Speaking for my government, I must deny that these men should have been
tried in this court for the murder of Silas Cumshaw. To do otherwise
would establish the principle and precedent that our Ambassador, or any
other Ambassador here, is a practicing politician under--mark that well,
Your Honor--under the laws and government of New Texas. This would not
only make of any Ambassador a permissable target for any marksman who
happened to disapprove of the policies of another government, but more
serious, it would place the Ambassador and his government in a
subordinate position relative to the government of New Texas. This the
government of the Solar League simply cannot tolerate, for reasons which
it would be insulting to the intelligence of this court to enumerate."
"Mr. Silk," Judge Nelson said gravely. "This court takes full cognizance
of the force of your arguments. However, I'd like to know why you
permitted this trial to run to this length before entering this
objection. Surely you could have made clear the position of your
government at the beginning of this trial."
"Your Honor," I said, "had I done so, these defendants would have been
released, and the facts behind their crime would have never come to
light. I grant that the important function of this court is to determine
questions of relative guilt and innocence. We must not lose sight,
however, of the fact that the primary function of any court is to
determine the truth, and only by the process of the trial of these
depraved murderers-for-hire could the real author of the crime be
"This was important, both for the government of the Solar League and the
government of New Texas. My government now knows who procured the death
of Silas Cumshaw, and we will take appropriate action. The government
of New Texas has now had spelled out, in letters anyone can read, the
fact that this beautiful planet is in truth a _battleground_. Awareness
of this may save New Texas from being the scene of a larger and more
destructive battle. New Texas also knows who are its enemies, and who
can be counted upon to stand as its friends."
"Yes, Mr. Silk. Mr. Vuvuvu, I haven't heard any comment from you.... No
comment? Well, we'll have to close the court, to consider this phase of
The black screen slid up, for the second time during the trial. There
was silence for a moment, and then the room became a bubbling pot of
sound. At least six fights broke out among the spectators within three
minutes; the Rangers and court bailiffs were busy restoring order.
Gail Hickock, who had been sitting on the front row of the spectators'
seats, came running up while I was still receiving the congratulations
of my fellow diplomats.
"Stephen! How _could_ you?" she demanded. "You know what you've done?
You've gotten those murdering snakes turned loose!"
Andrew Jackson Hickock left the prosecution table and approached.
"Mr. Silk! You've just secured the freedom of three men who murdered one
of my best friends!"
"Colonel Hickock, I believe I knew Silas Cumshaw before you did. He was
one of my instructors at Dumbarton Oaks, and I have always had the
deepest respect and admiration for him. But he taught me one thing,
which you seem to have forgotten since you expatriated yourself--that
in the Diplomatic Service, personal feelings don't count. The only
thing of importance is the advancement of the policies of the Solar
"Silas and I were attachés together, at the old Embassy at Drammool, on
Altair II," Colonel Hickock said. What else he might have said was lost
in the sudden exclamation as the black screen slid down. In front of
Judge Nelson, I saw, there were three pistol-belts, and three pairs of
"Switchblade Joe Bonney, Jack-High Abe Bonney, Turkey-Buzzard Tom
Bonney, together with your counsel, approach the court and hear the
verdict," Judge Nelson said.
The three defendants and their lawyer rose. The Bonneys were swaggering
and laughing, but for a lawyer whose clients had just emerged from the
shadow of the gallows, Sidney was looking remarkably unhappy. He
probably had imagination enough to see what would be waiting for him
"It pains me inexpressibly," Judge Nelson said, "to inform you three
that this court cannot convict you of the cowardly murder of that
learned and honorable old man, Silas Cumshaw, nor can you be brought to
trial in any other court on New Texas again for that dastardly crime.
Here are your weapons, which must be returned to you. Sort them out
yourselves, because I won't dirty my fingers on them. And may you regret
and feel shame for your despicable act as long as you live, which I hope
won't be more than a few hours."
With that, he used the end of his gavel to push the three belts off the
bench and onto the floor at the Bonneys' feet. They stood laughing at
him for a few moments, then stopped, picked the belts up, drew the
pistols to check magazines and chambers, and then began slapping each
others' backs and shouting jubilant congratulations at one another.
Sidney's two assistants and some of his friends came up and began
pumping Sidney's hands.
"There!" Gail flung at me. "Now look at your masterpiece! Why don't you
go up and congratulate him, too?"
And with that, she slapped me across the face. It hurt like the devil;
she was a lot stronger than I'd expected.
"In about two minutes," I told her, "you can apologize to me for that,
or weep over my corpse. Right now, though, you'd better be getting
behind something solid."
I turned and stepped forward to confront the Bonneys, mentally thanking
Gail. Up until she'd slapped me, I'd been weak-kneed and dry-mouthed
with what I had to do. Now I was just plain angry, and I found that I
was thinking a lot more clearly. Jack-High Bonney's wounded left
shoulder, I knew, wouldn't keep him from using his gun hand, but his
shoulder muscles would be stiff enough to slow his draw. I'd intended
saving him until I'd dealt with his brothers. Now, I remembered how he'd
gotten that wound in the first place: he'd been the one who'd used the
auto-rifle, out at the Hickock ranch. So I changed my plans and moved
him up to top priority.
"Hold it!" I yelled at them. "You've been cleared of killing a
politician, but you still have killing a Solar League Ambassador to
answer for. Now get your hands full of guns, if you don't want to die
with them empty!"
The crowd of sympathizers and felicitators simply exploded away from the
Bonney brothers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sidney and a fat,
blowsy woman with brass-colored hair as they both tried to dive under
the friends-of-the-court table at the same place. The Bonney brothers
simply stood and stared at me, for an instant, unbelievingly, as I got
my thumbs on the release-studs of my belt. Judge Nelson's gavel was
hammering, and he was shouting:
adjourned-reconvene-0900-tomorrow. _Hit the floor!_"
"Damn! He means it!" Switchblade Joe Bonney exclaimed.
Then they all reached for their guns. They were still reaching when I
pressed the studs and the Krupp-Tattas popped up into my hands, and I
swung up my right-hand gun and shot Jack-High through the head. After
that, I just let my subconscious take over. I saw gun flames jump out at
me from the Bonneys' weapons, and I felt my own pistols leap and writhe
in my hands, but I don't believe I was aware of hearing the shots, not
even from my own weapons. The whole thing probably lasted five seconds,
but it seemed like twenty minutes to me. Then there was nobody shooting
at me, and nobody for me to shoot at; the big room was silent, and I was
aware that Judge Nelson and his eight associates were rising cautiously
from behind the bench.
I holstered my left-hand gun, removed and replaced the magazine of the
right-hand gun, then holstered it and reloaded the other one. Hoddy
Ringo and Francisco Parros and Commander Stonehenge were on their feet,
their pistols drawn, covering the spectators' seats. Colonel Hickock had
also drawn a pistol and he was covering Sidney with it, occasionally
moving the muzzle to the left to include the z'Srauff Ambassador and his
By this time, Nelson and the other eight judges were in their seats,
trying to look calm and judicial.
"Your Honor," I said, "I fully realize that no judge likes to have his
court turned into a shooting gallery. I can assure you, however, that my
action here was not the result of any lack of respect for this court. It
was pure necessity. Your Honor can see that: my government could not
permit this crime against its Ambassador to pass unpunished."
Judge Nelson nodded solemnly. "Court was adjourned when this little
incident happened, Mr. Silk," he said.
He leaned forward and looked to where the three Bonney brothers were
making a mess of blood on the floor. "I trust that nobody will construe
my unofficial and personal comments here as establishing any legal
precedent, and I wouldn't like to see this sort of thing become
customary ... but ... you did that all by yourself, with those little
beanshooters?... Not bad, not bad at all, Mr. Silk."
I thanked him, then turned to the z'Srauff Ambassador. I didn't bother
putting my remarks into Basic. He understood, as well as I did, what I
"Look, Fido," I told him, "my government is quite well aware of the
source from which the orders for the murder of my predecessor came.
These men I just killed were only the tools.
"We're going to get the brains behind them, if we have to send every
warship we own into the z'Srauff star-cluster and devastate every planet
in it. We don't let dogs snap at us. And when they do, we don't kick
them, we shoot them!"
That, of course, was not exactly striped-pants diplomatic language. I
wondered, for a moment, what Norman Gazarian, the protocol man, would
think if he heard an Ambassador calling another Ambassador Fido.
But it seemed to be the kind of language that Mr. Vuvuvu understood. He
skinned back his upper lip at me and began snarling and growling. Then
he turned on his hind paws and padded angrily down the aisle away from
the front of the courtroom.
The spectators around him and above him began barking, baying, yelping
at him: "Tie a can to his tail!" "Git for home, Bruno!"
Then somebody yelled, "Hey, look! Even his wrist watch is blushing!"
That was perfectly true. Mr. Gglafrr Ddespttann Vuvuvu's watch-face,
normally white, was now glowing a bright ruby-red.
I looked at Stonehenge and found him looking at me. It would be full
dark in four or five hours; there ought to be something spectacular to
see in the cloudless skies of Capella IV tonight.
Fleet Admiral Sir Rodney Tregaskis would see to that.
OF SPACE-COMMANDER STONEHENGE
TO SECRETARY OF AGGRESSION, KLÜNG:
... so the measures considered by yourself
and Secretary of State Ghopal Singh and Security
Coördinator Natalenko, as transmitted to me by
Mr. Hoddy Ringo, were not, I am glad to say,
needed. Ambassador Silk, alive, handled the
thing much better than Ambassador Silk, dead,
could possibly have.
... to confirm Sir Rodney Tregaskis' report from the tales of the few
survivors, the z'Srauff attack came as the Ambassador had expected. They
dropped out of hyperspace about seventy light-minutes outside the
Capella system, apparently in complete ignorance of the presence of our
... have learned the entire fleet consisted of about three hundred
spaceships and reports reaching here indicate that no more than twenty
got back to z'Srauff Cluster.
... naturally, the whole affair has had a profound influence, an
influence to the benefit of the Solar League, on all shades of public
... as you properly assumed, Mr. Hoddy Ringo is no longer with us. When
it became apparent that the Palme-Silk Annexation Treaty would be
ratified here, Mr. Ringo immediately saw that his status of diplomatic
immunity would automatically terminate. Accordingly, he left this
system, embarking from New Austin for Alderbaran IX, mentioning, as he
shook hands with me, something about a widow. By a curious coincidence,
the richest branch bank in the city was held up by a lone bandit about
half an hour before he boarded the space-ship...._
OF THE LAST SOLAR AMBASSADOR TO NEW
Copies of the Treaty of Annexation, duly ratified by the New Texas
Please note that the guarantees of non-intervention in local political
institutions are the very minimum which are acceptable to the people of
New Texas. They are especially adamant that there will be no change in
their peculiar methods of insuring that their elected and appointed
public officials shall be responsible to the electorate.
_After the ratification of the Palme-Silk treaty, Mr. Silk remained on
New Texas, married the daughter of a local rancher there (see file on
First Ambassador, Colonel Andrew Jackson Hickock) and is still active in
politics on that planet, often in opposition to Solar League policies,
which he seems to anticipate with an almost uncanny prescience._
Natalenko re-read the addendum, pursed his thick lips and sighed. There
were so many ways he could be using Mr. Stephen Silk....
For example--he looked at the tri-di star-map, both usefully and
beautifully decorating his walls--over there, where Hoddy Ringo had
gone, near Alderbaran IX.
Those were twin planets, one apparently settled by the equivalent
descendants of the Edwards and the other inhabited by the children of a
Jukes-Kallikak union. Even the Solar League Ambassadors there had taken
the viewpoints of the planets to whom they were accredited, instead of
the all-embracing view which their training should have given them....
Curious problem ... and, how would Stephen Silk have handled it?
The Security Coördinator scrawled a note comprehensible only to
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kind of person discovers he's being cheated of wealth he's risked his
life for, that kind of planet is ripe for revolution.
Lone Star Planet
New Texas: its citizens figure that name about says it all. The Solar
League ambassador to the Lone Star Planet has the unenviable task of
convincing New Texans that a s'Srauff attack is imminent, and dangerous.
Unfortunately it's common knowledge that the s'Srauff are evolved from
canine ancestors--and not a Texan alive is about to be scared of a
talking dog! But unless he can get them to act, and fast, there won't be
a Texan alive, scared or otherwise!
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